Quote of the Weekend

“W.H.Auden once wrote, “Teach the free man to praise.” For that freedom, America has generously praised the generation of World War II. But of their Vietnam progeny, of those who returned to jeers rather than parades, the press has projected the face filled with fear, unworthy of praise. It is left to others in unlikely places to trace callused hands over rough cement and to remember the faces which were stalwart.

The village remembers.”

– The Village by Bing West

(This book tells the story of a group of marines who lived, worked, protected, and died in a Village in Vietnam. The village remembers them with honor and friendship to this day.)

Five Children on the Western Front, The Village, and Valkyrie


Five Children on the Western Front by Kate Saunders

I grew up devouring E. Nesbit’s children’s stories. She is probably one of my biggest subconscious influences as a writer. In a random article, I heard about this sequel to Five Children and It, which was for obvious reasons (I’m one of five) one of my favorites,  and just had to read it.
After Amazon had to order it from London, I was able to snuggle in with this book.  I cried in the first chapter and several times through.  This amazing book captures perfectly what it’s like as siblings in a large family growing up and trying to hold onto their love for each other while also going their own ways by reintroducing the magic of their childhood to the youngest two.
This amazing book tackles beautifully the horrors of WW1 through the life and magic of the family. You see the war through the magic and also through its effects on the family.
If you grew up with the Five Children you must read this book…just keep a box of tissues at hand.

Rated PG: Adult Issues because of the war.


The Village by Bing West

Sometimes it seems like there are no positive stories about brave warriors from the Vietnam war. There is no praise offered up to the men who fought in the war and no honoring of their acts and valor.

This book goes against the Vietnam grain and tells the story of a group of marines who live, sweat, laugh, love and die in a Vietnam village protecting it from the Viet Con. Not a long book, or overly challenging, it never the less pays honor and homage to these men.

I really enjoyed the book. It was well written, straight-forward, not to gory or gross, but offered a balanced and honest view of life in the Vietnam war. I found it fascinating to read about how the Americans had to learn what the Vietnamese considered a victory or a defeat. They weren’t always in agreement. The soldiers learned to work beside the villagers, trust them, and help them. The soldiers loved the village and protected it at all cost. It was wonderful to read a real life story about Vietnam not reduced down to hate.

This is a great story about some real American heroes.

Rated R: violence, sex, language.


Valkyrie: the story of the plot to kill Hitler, by its last member by Philip Freiherr Von Boeselager

I really enjoyed this book from the perspective of the story I’m writing, because I have a character who is on the “wrong” side of the war and decides to stay because of his men. Philip Boeselager was in the cavalry in WW2 under the command of his brother part of the time and also part of the plot to assassinate Hitler. He didn’t flee the country. He didn’t abandon his men. But he also didn’t stand by while horrible things where happening.

Told by the last living member of Operation Valkyrie, this book takes you through the life of Philipp and his brother Georg as German officers in WW2. It is touching, sad, inspiring, and wonderful to know that some Germans did stand up against the Nazis and all they tried to do.

I found it very interesting to learn that one of the leading men in the plot against Hitler was a Protestant. He believed very keenly that they must try to the very end to assassinate Hitler so that the world would know the Germans hadn’t all agreed with him. He pushed them forward when they thought about quitting by reminding them of the number of people dying every day under Hitler.

Another interesting point was their understanding that Hitler’s death wasn’t enough. They also knew they had to deal with the SS which coincides with stories you hear from the end of the war about Allies and Germans fighting the SS together.

Much of the story takes place on the Russian front which I haven’t. read much about. According to this book, there were Russians joining the Germans so they could fight against communism. That’s not something you hear about very often.

I think I read this book in about two hours. It would work well for a high school student wanting to flesh out their understanding of the war.

Rated: PG-13: not graphic, just war. No sex. No major language.


Once an Eagle by Anton Myrer


I’ve had a hard time trying to figure out what to say about this book. It is like the pinnacle of all slice of life stories as it follows Sam Damon from boyhood through WWI, WW2, and Vietnam. When you finish reading it there is a hollow in your heart from living a whole other life for a time. The writing style of this book is superb. I could recommend it on that alone. Myrer’s battle scenes are beautiful in their terror, horror, and glory.  His descriptions, both short and long, paint the picture of events in vivid words dripping with sweat, blood,and tears. His characters are diverse, broken, and glorious. Sam is the hero of the book but much of his tale is told from the point of view of those around him providing the reader with a 3-D view of the world.
I will admit that the WW2 section is my favorite, no surprise there, but it is also the hardest part to read.
If you are a history buff especially of modern military history, I can’t recommend this massive book enough. Go read it. Then you too can walk around feeling lost for a few days. 🙂

Content Warning: This is a story about sinful people living life. It’s not clean and it’s not pretty, but I do think Myrer did a good job of not wallowing in the darker moments of the story. It is full of Adult Content (war, military life, married life, unfaithful spouses, unfaithful friends, death, drugs.) and the reading level is pretty high, so college age and up would be my recommendation. I think it’s one of those books that could be wasted on high schoolers. I know I never would have appreciated it when I was a teen.

Happy Veterans Day!


Happy Veterans Day to all our Vets!  I used to try to list out all the Vets I know, but the list has grown so long that I’m afraid I’ll miss someone. What I’d like to do instead is list the four most influential Vets in my life.

Uncle Russ the Marine who gave three little kids MREs and Camouflage paint.

Grandpa Tirrill the Air Force Pilot with his name on a memorial in a small town up north for fighting in the Korean War.

Father-in-law Vidal Jones who fought in the Vietnam War and has shared a few stories with me.

Most of all to my brother Matt who will always be my favorite Army Tanker.

I love these four men more than words can say and I’m thankful for all the ways they love me. I’m thankful for the service they rendered to their country in a time of need and for their sacrifice.

I’d also like to say thank you to the two Chaplain’s wives I’ve had the joy of connecting with for serving their men for so many years.

Happy Veterans Day!

(And many thanks to my Dad for instilling a respect and love for these warriors and for history in us!)

Writing Lesson: Suffering

I’m a storyteller. You put me in a group of people and I’ll tell stories to avoid awkward silences. You leave me alone and I’ll write, read, watch, or make up my own stories. About the only time I can get the story part of my brain to shut off is if I’m listening to music, and even that is no guarantee.

My husband is analytical. He’s the researcher, the studier, the teacher in the family. He taught himself how to program computers and now he’s teaching himself to be a preacher. He loves to analyze everything. We’ve had lively discussions about Star Trek, Chuck, Rambo, Godzilla, the Apprentice, Metallica, Downton Abbey, and of course theology.


Metal Gear Solid 5: Ground Zeroes

Both of us are Metal Gear Solid fans. That’s a video game, fyi. As far as I’m aware, this story started in the 90’s with Solid Snake as the main character. He appeared in five games. His father, Big Boss, was the villain in several of those games. Big Boss is the main character in 2 games, a demo, and the up and coming Phantom Pain. The story is complex, riveting, unique, and moving. As you play, you start to put the pieces together of how Big Boss became the bad guy you face as Solid Snake. You realize he wasn’t always evil. In fact, he was an honorable and good man for many years until one too many betrayals by the US government and people he trusted drove him to the dark antagonist we encounter as Solid Snake.

Being the fan boy and girl we are, we have spent hours playing this game and hours discussing the plot, characters, and unraveling the complex threads of the story. I stand in awe at Hideo Kojima’s ability to move me from anti-Big Boss to feeling very sympathetic towards him and what he becomes. As his story unfolds and you see everything he goes through, all the men he loses, and the betrayals he faces, you begin to understand how and why a man could become such an antagonists.

Discussing our favorite video game, my husband said this: To tell a good story you need great characters, and to have great characters you need great suffering, and to have great suffering you need context.

Big Boss context is war. From WWII, to Vietnam, to the Cold War, including children soldiers, his context is the battlefield. He suffers betrayal by his government which leads him to kill his mentor. He’s betrayed by everyone he counts a friend. He loses soldiers in useless battles. He has been trained to be a weapon and then is shunned because he is that weapon. This betrayal is his suffering. This context and this suffering creates a great character. Big Boss has three sons. The least of his three sons goes through similar sufferings at the hand of his government, but he is able to overcome them in the end. This creates a juxtaposition between Solid Snake and his father Big Boss. This allows you, the viewer, to see a mirror image of one man going bad and one man going deeper and stronger.

200_sTheir story reminds me of Lore and Data in Star Trek:NG. Two brothers created in the exact image of their father, one is evil and one is good. Big Boss and his sons are that way. Solid Snake is forced to destroy both his brothers who take on the evil of their father.

As a storyteller, I found my husband’s analysis of what makes a good story to ring true. A good story has to have good characters. But what makes a good character? Suffering. It is what they go through and how they react that we are interested in. We want to see them suffer because that’s something we can all relate to. From a child who loses a parent, is bullied, bullies, to soldiers, mothers, and growing old, we have all suffered. That suffering and how we react to it is what makes us who we are. Whether good or evil, it’s suffering that paves the path we are walking.

That suffering needs a believable place to happen. That’s our context. It’s not so much about being in space, or on the battlefield, or traveling through time, as it is creating the suffering which makes sense. A princess forced to live a life of ease is not suffering, but a princess trapped in a betrothal to a man she’s never met is suffering. A boy adopted into a wealthy home after living on the streets isn’t suffering. But that same boy now in a new home who discovers his friends aren’t all they seem, and then finds himself in a battle for his soul is suffering. Context enriches the suffering of your characters. It gives you a structure to guide suffering the rest of us can get.

Marcus Luttrell, the Lone Survivor

Marcus Luttrell, the Lone Survivor

Think about the stories that stick with you. Think about the characters that stick with you. Harry Potter sticks with us because every year of his life the suffering ratchets up a notch. The Hunger Games don’t just deal with suffering at the hands of oppressive governments, but the psychological suffering of Katniss as she becomes a darker and darker character. To this day, I’m haunted by Henry in The Time Traveler’s Wife. He suffered his whole life and even suffered in his death. In real life, we think about the Holocaust. Those stories of great suffering continue to reverberate through history. Think about the haunted look on a soldiers face in Vietnam when his country couldn’t back him. Look in the eyes of Marcus Luttrell knowing he was the only one of his buddies to survive. Suffering is what connects us.

Do you use suffering to help us bond with your characters? Are you afraid to put your characters through the fire? Remember the Bible teaches that we are refined in a fire to clear away the dross. God uses suffering to make us more like Christ. Suffering burns away pride, self-reliance, and hardness leaving soft gold shimmering behind. In antagonists, suffering brings bitterness, blame, self-protection, and self-love creating a monster.

Suffering is one of the best ways to create believable characters, both your protagonist and antagonists. I’m pretty good at making my heroes suffer, but I think I need to start working on my villains a bit more.


Just an FYI:

Metal Gear Solid is rated M for mature.

Harry Potter is PG – PG13.

Hunger Games is PG 13.

Time Traveler’s Wife is rated R.

Star Trek: NG is PG.

Chuck is PG-13.

Rambo is R.

Godzilla is PG-13.

The Apprentice is PG-13.

Metallica is PG-13.

Downton Abbey is PG-13.

Quote of the Weekend

Drive On

I got a friend named Whiskey Sam
He was my boonierat buddy for a year in Nam
He said is my country just a little off track
Took ’em twenty-five years to welcome me back
But, it’s better than not coming back at all
Many a good man
I saw fall And even now,
every time I dream I hear the men
and the monkeys in the jungle scream

Drive on, don’t mean nothin’
My children love me , but they don’t understand
And I got a woman who knows her man
Drive on, don’t mean nothin’, drive on

I remember one night,
Tex and me Rappelled in on a hot L.Z.
We had our 16’s on rock and roll
But, with all that fire,
was scared and cold
We were crazy, we were wild
And I have seen the tiger smile
I spit in a bamboo viper’s face
And I’d be dead , but by God’s grace

Drive on, don’t mean nothin’
My children love me, but they don’t understand
And I got a woman who knows her man
Drive on, don’t mean nothin’, drive on

It was a real slow walk in a real sad rain
And nobody tried to be John Wayne
I came home, but Tex did not
And I can’t talk about the hit he got
I got a little limp now when
I walk Got a little tremolo when
I talk But my letter read from Whiskey Sam
You’re a walkin’ talkin’ miracle from Vietnam

Drive on, don’t mean nothin’
My children love me, but they don’t understand
And I got a woman who knows her man
Drive on, don’t mean nothin’, drive on
– Johnny Cash

(Who better to sing about Vietnam than the Man in Black?)