Friday, November 11, 2011

What I Wish Romance Writers Knew About the Military (Guest Post)

In honor of Veterans' Day, today's guest is Vince Mooney, who has some wonderful advice to share with anyone interested in writing military romance (or anyone who just wants to learn more about how the military works!).

Meet Vince: "Born in Long Island, New York, have lived in New Jersey, Connecticut, Arizona, California, and Oklahoma. Lived three years in Italy and Germany while in USAF.(Air Police: K-9 section). Now live in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Married after whirlwind romance to same wife for over 30 years. Currently run my own real estate school in Oklahoma. Like to study foreign languages for a few months just to see how they work. Also like Latin and giving speeches. I’ve taught Philosophy, Advertising, Property Management, and many real estate subjects at the University, Community College, and Technical School level. Now writing non-fiction book on the Romance genre. I was trained to be a philosopher and history teacher but have worked mostly in advertising, marketing, and real estate."

You can learn more about Vince at his blog Philosophy of Romance.

Welcome, Vince!

What I Wish Romance Writers Knew About the Military

It can be very difficult for me to read a military romance because there are sometimes enough mistakes to repeatedly pull me out of the story. This does not have to be the case. I’ve read many military romances by Maureen Child with complete satisfaction. She must have a very good military fact checker. But then, even a good military fact checker will usually only catch mistakes. He won’t suggest the kind of additions that should also be in the story if it is to be true to life.

Below are ten suggestions for writing better military romances as seen from a veteran’s point of view. One caveat: veterans were in the service at different times. Things change. Ranks change. The writer should check everything out first to make sure her facts are true for the same time period she is writing about. (Ranks may have been different during WWII, for example.)

1. Get the ranks right. I read one romance where the author thought a sergeant major outranked a Captain. She had the Captain jump up and salute the sergeant. This just destroys the writer’s credibility.

Here is where you can check ranks.

2. Get the time-in-grade right. Make sure the character has a rank that is appropriate for his age and/or time in the military. I’ve seen heroes with ranks so low for their time in the service that they must have been real screw-up’s who were busted a few times. This was not the author’s intention. (I couldn’t help thinking: what a loser that hero must be.)

Here is where you can get an idea of Army time-in-grade requirements before being promoted to the next rank.

You can find other sites for Navy and Air Force. Remember: some services do not have some ranks. I only saw one Warrant Office my whole time in the Air Force. I don’t believe there are any left.

3. Put military ‘annoyances’ into the story. I’ve read a whole series of military romances where you would swear the Airman had civilian jobs. They’d go to work like they were going to a civilian office. They would take days off or afternoons off as they needed for their personal reasons. That’s not military life.

I’d like to see some things like: having to go to commander’s call once a month (this is a major meeting of the troops often in a movie theater where films are shown and the concerns of the commander are given.) If this meeting was from 9 am to 12 pm and you just worked the 11 pm to 8 am shift, you still had to go. (Make sure they are still doing this at the time your story takes place. Make sure they call it Commander’s Call in the service you are writing about. They may do it on the internet at this point.)

Troops also have to take their exercise tests each year (this could be more often now). Another ‘hot issue’ that comes up a few times a year is who is going to be promoted and how will they react? (I’ve seen airman who were so mad they were not promoted that they went around kicking holes in the walls.) I don’t think I’ve ever seen troops looking at the posted promotion lists in a romance. This is a big deal. If your story spans a full year, this would have come up in real life.

There are also medical exams and shots to take as well as qualifying on the rifle range. There are inspections and sometimes the Inspector General flies in to check the post out. These inspections are supposed to be a surprise but we always knew when it was going to happen. Air Police pretty much knew what was going on.

Don’t forget the dreaded alerts. These are mission exercises where a war situation is simulated. The whole base would be called out to battle stations. You could be asleep in the middle of the night after having worked the 4 pm to 11 pm shift and you still had to get up and put in at least another 8 hours. Alerts are a major annoyance at any time. If you were just leaving the base to start your 30-day leave they can be a disaster. Even the officers would tell the troops: “If you are off duty, get off of the base. Go somewhere. Don’t stick around here.”

4. Consider describing the colorful patches on the uniform of your hero or heroine.

For example, if you have an Air Force Pararescue member, check out what the patch looks like here.

Soldiers and airman are proud of their units. I was in the Air Police K-9 corps and we had a patch we were very proud of.

See some here.

5. Have some saluting going on every once in a while to give the story a military flavor. I’ve read military romances where I don’t believe there was even one salute in the whole story.

6. Have some complaining going on in the background. This is just normal. “There’s the right way and there’s the Army way.”

7. Remember: personnel rotate every few years. Don’t have people on the post who have had the same military position for ten years. Troops are rotated every few years so they can get a fresh start every so often. Even a bad commander, who you can’t stand, may be gone in a year or two or you might be going to a new base in a few months yourself. This rotation makes it easier to put up with things that you would otherwise consider to be intolerable if you knew things would never change.

8. Troops who vote will often use absentee ballots.

9. There is usually some talk about getting out of the service or re-upping. “He’s a lifer” is often said about a career solider. Use a little slang like, RHIP: rank has its privilege. This is used quite often.

10. Talk about benefits and education. There are bonuses to re-up and money to pay for part of college tuition. Your hero could be going to college in the military. It could be a reason why he will not leave the service.

Use only a little of the above suggestions.

In no way would I suggest that the above is a checklist a writer must compete when writing a military story. Most romance readers are woman and most women have not been in the military. A writer does not have to do any of things I recommend above. I realize that the romance is the central focus of the story. However, if some of the above items are included in the story, then the story will seem more real and the reader will get an insight into military life that she did not have before reading the story.

One more thing: being late to work is being AWOL. Don’t have your service people coming late to work like it wasn’t a big deal. This does drive me crazy.

Vince
USAF, TAC 17th AF
1963 to 1967 K-9

Amber's Parting Comments: Thank you so much for the helpful information, Vince! And thank you for your service to our country. May we honor our military men and women this day and every day for the sacrifices they make or have made on our behalf.

27 comments:

Juju at Tales of Whimsy.com said...

Wow. All really great advice.

Kav said...

This is great, Vince and Amber. Loved the K-9 badges. And the fact that you touched on things that an author might not consider but would bring credibility to the story.

While I'd never attempt a military romance since the sum of what I know about that life I just read in this post, the hero in my WIP trains dogs for police work. I think I need to power up my research -- that's for sure!!!

Missy Tippens said...

Great interview Amber and Vince! Lots of info for a writer.

I interviewed my FIL (a Lifer :)) for a character I was working on. That story didn't sell, but I'm still thinking I may use that character sometime. Will keep this in mind!

Vince said...

Hi Amber:

Thank you for the introduction and warm welcome. It’s a special honor to post here today. It’s an honor because “Seasons of Humility” does such a wonderful job all year making observations with sensitivity, insight, and even poetry.

It’s also an honor because today is Veteran’s Day. I was not a war hero but I grew up with WWII heroes around me all my life. We are a military family. My wife’s family is military. I see WWII veterans at the VA all the time. The WWII veterans seem different to me. More than any others, they are the veterans who do not want to talk about it.

My wife’s uncle landed at D-Day. He would never talk about it. Not say a word. My father and uncle would not talk about the war.

People think the WWII vets were slighted in not having a dedicated monument for so many decades. But it hurt too much. Too many died. The horror was too great. The destruction so total. You win a war like that by not losing it. They didn’t want parades. They just wanted it over. They were the ones who got to live and live to a purpose they did.

Now my sister-in-law, a Navy Commander, organizes honor flights to take the last remaining WWII vets to Washington D.C. to see ‘their’ monument before the final curtain.

This is one of the most inspiring events I believe a person today can witness. I’ve looked into the eyes of these men and I don’t think they are seeing a monument. They are seeing those who were young and alive but who never had a future. As old and frail as these men and women are, they are again dutifully standing witness for those who could not be there. A last tribute. A last goodbye until they meet again.

I think of the “Greatest Generation” as the “Heroes Who Didn’t Want to Talk About It.”

For them and for all veterans I’d like to quote “A Prayer for our Military” by Debby Giusti:

“Lord, protect our military deployed around the world. Be their armor of righteousness as they stand firm against the enemy. Keep them physically, mentally and spiritually strong. Comfort them in times of hardship and bring them safely home to the families who eargerly await their return. Amen.”

www.DebbyGiusti.com

Thanks.

Vince

Vince said...

Hi Kav:

When I was in the AF we put on K-9 shows for the public. They were very popular. The dogs could do amazing things. I bet you could see a show or watch the training of police dogs in your area. It would be fun research.

Thanks for your comment.

Vince

Vince said...

Hi Juju:

I like your website. Very refreshing.

Vince

Vince said...

Hi Missy:

If you do use your FIL, please let me know. I sure want to read it.

Thanks for your comment.

Vince

Amber S. said...

Juju,

I agree! :) Thanks for stopping by!

~Amber

Amber S. said...

Kav,

That's really cool! My dad trained K-9s for bomb/drug detection and even worked with one at our local airport for a time. He's done so much, and I'm so proud of him! :)

If you ever have any random questions about law enforcement officers working with K-9s, my dad would be a good resource. :) Of course, I shouldn't volunteer his time without asking him first, but I could probably pass along a question or two! ;)

~Amber

Amber S. said...

Missy,

Vince certainly has a lot of great advice in this post! :) I asked him if he was willing to put together a post in honor of Veterans' Day, and he agreed, even with his busy NaNoWriMo schedule! I am greatly appreciative. :)

Glad you could stop by!

~Amber

Amber S. said...

Vince,

Thank you so much for this wonderful post and your comment! I am humbled and honored by your kind words about my blog. :) Thank you for taking the time to visit here!

Also, thank you for your insights regarding WWII veterans. My grandpa served during WWII, and he actually got to go on one of the Honor Flights in October. I thought it was so neat that I had learned about it through you and your sister-in-law's wonderful post here, and then my own grandpa got the chance to go! I only wish I could have been there to welcome the veterans back home, but I was here at school at the time....

Please thank your sister-in-law again for the work she does on behalf of our nation's veterans!

~Amber

Debby Giusti said...

Great post, Vince! Thanks for such good ideas about what to include in a military romance. I'm taking notes! :)

Thanks, too, for including my Prayer for the Military in your comments. Praying for the safety of our brave men and women in uniform is the least we can do as a grateful nation.

God bless our Veterans and God bless the USA!

Hugs.

Faye said...

Great guest post. I learned so much that if I ever write a military novel, I will be sure to do alot of research! Thanks Vince and Amber :)

Vince said...

Hi Debby:

Thanks for coming by. I’m sure many of the fans of this blog would love your books about the military. Especially if they like NCIS type drama – except in yours the hero gets the girl! : )

Vince

Vince said...

Hi Faye:

I hope you do write a military romance. I also say that it is easier to write a hero when you’re dealing with real heroes.

Vince

Amber S. said...

Debby,

Agreed! (About the great information, praying, etc.) :)

Excited to maybe host YOU here sometime, too!! :)

Thanks for stopping by!

~Amber

Amber S. said...

Faye,

Vince definitely shared a lot of great information in this post! :) So glad you could stop by!

~Amber

Bluerose said...

This was just such a great post!! I feel a bit smarter just from reading it. ;) I'll be thinking about all of these things next time I'm in a military book. I never would have caught any of them!

Amber S. said...

Bluerose,

I know, right? :) So glad you enjoyed it - it was awesome to host Vince today!

~Amber

Melanie said...

I awarded your blog the 'Tell Me About Yourself' blog award!

http://christianbookshelfreviews.blogspot.com/2011/11/my-fourth-blog-award-tell-me-about.html

Tina Radcliffe said...

Well done, VINCE!!!! I salute you and grumble in the background (only that you thought of this post topic first, lol)

Amber S. said...

Melanie,

Thank you so much! :) I actually already posted about this award, but I really appreciate your thoughtfulness - and I added your name to my "Blog Awards" page for the "thank you" for this specific award. :)

~Amber

Amber S. said...

Tina,

LOL! It's a great/helpful topic, isn't it? :) But you're awesome, too! ;)

Glad you could stop by!

~Amber

Live in Stereo-News said...

Beautiful post.

Amber S. said...

Live in Stereo-News,

Agreed! Vince did a great job. :)

Thanks for stopping by!

~Amber

Cheryl Wyatt said...

Vince, this is a great article and I appreciate your attention to detail.

Blessings and hope you are doing well.

Cheryl

Amber S. said...

Cheryl,

Thank you for stopping by! I appreciated Vince sharing this article with my readers. :) I haven't heard from Vince in a while, though, so I hope he's doing well, too!

~Amber