Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Writing as a Blood Sport

Some people think this writing stuff is easy. You just turn on the computer, open a new document and whammo! The words leap magically from your fingers to the page and before you know it you have cranked out another story.

Yeah, right.

Maybe it works that way for some people, but for me it’s always been more like that quote from the late New York sports writer Red Smith. He said writing is easy. You just open a vein and let that vein bleed one word at a time onto the page.

Now THAT is what writing is generally like for me. And my most recent project appeared as if it was going to require a transfusion after I completed it. That'll be a pint of O positive, please.

When I write, I do a lot of research. Lots and lots of research because I'm a stickler for facts. I remember reading a book where the hero was injured in a fight on board a plane during an overnight flight from Miami, Florida to Havana, Cuba. Uh... overnight? It's only 225 miles. And she set the story at an inn on a cliff overlooking waves crashing against the rocks -- on the coast of Georgia. Now I happen to know a thing or two about the Georgia coast because my sister has lived there for the past twenty-seven years and my mom has been there for fourteen years. There are no cliffs or big rocks.

I also tend to write best at night so I burn an awful lot of midnight oil. It's not uncommon for me to crawl into bed at two or three o'clock in the morning. Of course, I have an empty nest and don't have to get up with small children so I have that luxury.

Sometimes I wish I could just take that midnight oil lamp, rub it vigorously and have a genie pop out with all the answers.

Back to the transfusion.

A week ago a magazine editor posted on one of my email loops and called for stories with a military theme. A year or so ago, I’d done a writing exercise where I wrote 1000 words about a fire fighter who had been blinded in a back draft. Blah, blah, blah and with the love of a good woman, he put his life back together and learned to love again.

So I put on the thinking cap and decided to make the fire fighter a soldier and instead of back draft he’s blinded in a bombing. Bingo!

Then the editor posts that if you don’t have a military background, this is going to require a great deal of research because she wants articles that ring true since many of their readers are involved with the military in one way or another.

Okay. I’m married to a man who was classified 4F during the Vietnam era and I know zilch about the military, so I open Google and search for “soldier+Iraq+blinded+bombing” and I get a hit about a soldier blinded in a car bombing. Actually the article was about him learning to ski again and his ski trip to Vail. So I’m thinking the soldier in my story needs to be bitter about losing not only his sight, but feel as if his whole life has gone down the tubes. However, with the love of a good woman, he'll learn that he can continue with his life and career plans despite the blindness. And they live happily ever after.

Then I started writing, blew him up and realized I know zip about what happens when a soldier is wounded in the field. Google proved to be no help, no doubt because I was not entering the right search words.

That’s when I began banging my head against the wall and wondering how I was going to solve this part of the problem.

Some of my help came through pure dumb luck. I picked up a back issue of Reader’s Digest in a moment of boredom and good grief if one of the cover articles wasn’t about a member of the bomb squad in Iraq. I got loads of great info about improvised explosive devices (AKA bombs), how they work, how they’re diffused and the havoc they create.

Then I remembered one of my email loops has three women whose husbands are active duty military. One is a chaplain, one is a doctor and the third is in the National Guard.

The chaplain and his wife are in the process of moving from one post to another so she’s otherwise detained. But the other two have been posting regularly on the loop so I sent out smoke signals that spelled out a frantic SOS.

In the couple years that I’ve been writing, I’ve learned that writers are a very sharing group. No matter your dilemma, you can probably find someone on an email loop or message board who can help or point you in the right direction. This particular email loop was formed about two years ago when we all “met” on eHarlequin while participating in the Writing Round Robin led by Roxanne St. Claire. After the RR was over, we wanted to continue socializing and helping each other like we’d done on the message boards. We had dubbed ourselves the “Writing Round Robin Hood” and thus “Romancing the Hood” was born.

We’ve shared our expertise in various areas. I’ve advised others about the South, NASA and architects. I've told them what to expect when you attend a national RWA conference. And now it was my turn to ask for help. I posted and asked about wounded soldiers and how/where they are treated and if being blinded would automatically cause a soldier to be discharged. I got tons of terrific information that would give the story the authenticity I needed.

When I had the story complete, I asked both women if they would mind reading and offer their feedback from a military spouse’s viewpoint.

Then they went the extra mile. They both gave the story to their husbands and had them read it.

The National Guard guy said it rang true in terms of the situation and the lingo. When I read that I was pumping my fist in the air.

Next I heard back from Doctor guy and bless him, he made notations on the document and clarified a few things, and he even pointed out one place where I’d switched from first person to third and messed up the POV. With the few changes he recommended, he said it was right on the money. Another fist pump and a big whoop!

I had lots of questions and all four of these people had lots of answers that they gave freely.

So I’d like to send a great big thank you to Linda, Steve, Donna and Michael for all their help and infinite patience. And thanks to the rest of the Hood for putting up with all our chatter.

The story is winging its way to NYC right now. With luck it will catch the editor’s eye and make it into a future issue.

I’ll keep you posted. Actually I probably won’t have to – if they buy it, you’ll be able to hear me yelling and screaming. ;-)

Have you ever received help from an unusual or unlikely source?


Anonymous said...

Dear Marilyn,

You are most welcome and thank you so much for the 'thank you'. :)

Michael and I were more than happy to help and will always be there if future help is ever needed. You are just as giving and would've no doubt done the same without hesitation.

Good luck with the piece. I loved it.


Anonymous said...


You are very welcome my friend. Thank you for the touching words.

Coming from an intelligent, well organized thinker such as you, the sentiments are especially appreciated.

Steve and I were very happy to be able to help. I must say though, we really didn't do much except to provide a few military details. When reading your story, we both commented about the wonderful talent you have for writing. Nonetheless, it's a good feeling to be able to return a favor and you finally gave me an opportunity to do so. You've provided lots of helpful information and advice to me and our other friends in the "Hood" over the last couple of years. The pleasure was ours.

Thanks for being you.

Wishing you continued success!


Problem Child said...

I'm always amazed at the support available in this community. It seems just as I'm about to pull my hair out over something or jump off the ledge, the perfect person appears with the perfect solution or right words.

Sometimes, it's even one of ya'll! ;-P

Instigator said...

Like PC, I'm always amazed by the support of this community. I've said it before but you'd be hard pressed to find another industry where the people involved are so forthcoming with information and support.

I know there have been many people who have helped me! Most of them right here :-)


Char said...

Writing is indeed a blood sport...but not just in the doing (which is hard enough). But when you finally get that break you've been hoping for and dreaming about (like when you've been hired to write scripts for Days of Our Lives) and someone heartlessly steals your dream - well, it's a story worth telling. Hope you'll visit me at, click on Show & Tail and then Dish Pan to read all about my merry misadventures in trying to become a soap opera writer. It's a long story, so new installments will be added every so often. And I'd love to hear from anyone who's had similar experiences.