The Write Stuff

Why write?  I’m really not sure.  Lillian and I have been recording our travels since 2007.  These blogs to family and friends were just quick updates on our whereabouts rather than a serious attempt to string together a coherent story.  Practice helped improve my prose, but the places were the real story.  The pictures chronicled our adventures and were what everyone wanted to see anyway.

So why, in retirement, have you decided to write and share your stories?  That’s a good question.  I wish I knew.  Partly, I think I want to share memories, and partly, I want to keep in touch with the people we’ve befriended.  In the military and now traveling in an RV, you are always leaving someone behind.  I enjoyed reliving the exploits of three of the friends I had during my working years.  None of them are as good as my memories, but therein lies the truth I want to remember.  Now that I’ve written a little about each of them, my stories become the truth.  At least, the truth for me.  Isn’t life better that way?

I recently bought a new TV.  One of those super sharp, ultra-high-definition, flat-screen wonders.  If you get up close, you can see every pore on everyone’s face.  This is reality run amuck.  I quickly discovered that I needed to step back and not get too close.  Maybe we don’t need to see every detail to know the truth.  With writing, there need not be a blemish or imperfection.  I like choosing the reality I want and ignoring the reality that only lives on the surface.

A quick Google search yielded writing tips from America’s best writers.  According to Ernest Hemmingway, you should use “vigorous English.”  I’m not sure what that means.  John Steinbeck advised, “Write freely and as rapidly as possible and throw the whole thing on paper.”  Now that’s solid advice, like all these ideas are somehow trapped in my brain, and all I need is a keyboard for them to flood out.  William Faulkner wrote over 2400 words about being a writer.  This compared to Hemmingway’s fourteen.  I guess Faulkner had a lot more to say.  He did advise would-be authors to read, read and read.  Sadly, I don’t.  I guess I should.  Stephen King said pretty much the same thing but then added, “don’t watch television.”  Sadly, again, I do.

King went on to say that as a writer, you should master the art of description.  His very next tip was that you shouldn’t give too much background information.  I’ll try and incorporate these two jewels in my next story.  I have started to read and, in a few cases, reread classic American Literature.  Long overdue.  I enjoy writing from the aspect of telling a story.  If ever I get good enough to offer some advice on writing, I think my first offering would be to make sure you have something interesting to say.  I believe that having a good story to tell is more important than good grammar.  People can help you with your grammar, but those same people can only confide the truth when it comes to your story.  “Your grammar is impeccable, but your story sucks.”

I don’t much care for fiction, sci-fi, fantasy, romance, mystery, or the true crime genres.  Also, non-fiction tends to be boring or depressing.  Lately, it’s been both.  Self-help is a waste of time, as are cookbooks without pictures.  Lillian says I should read Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow.  She says I should read all 818 pages.  I watched the play instead.  It cost me 20 bucks on the Disney Channel.  I got halfway through Obama’s 768-page autobiography, The Promised Land.  It took three credits on Audible.  It’s not that I can’t read.  It’s that I read slowly.  My mind wanders.  I feel guilty I’m not doing some household chore or working out.  I’ve got to get into better shape.  I can’t wait for February.  In February, I get to give up all the New Year’s resolutions I made in January.

I did try my hand at fiction.  Here is a sample I sent my editor:

They lie on the floor, the fireplace still smoldering.  Their passion, while now in retreat, still burning.  The small candle, wick mostly gone, filled the room with shadows.  In an instant, the moment was gone.  After the loving, lying there, the air was still.  Her heart relaxed.  His, still pounding.  He farted.  Not your soft, gentle, ‘I love you’ fart, but a loud unpretentious klaxon.  The cat jumped, the cloud too heavy to reach above the mantel, hovered. “I love you,” she said.  “I lov. . .” He was fast asleep.  You’re soo old, she thought.

If I ever finish this novel, I’ll title it The Old Man and the Sea.  Or maybe, War and Peace.  See, all the good titles are taken, and all the best fiction has already been written.

I learned to write at the Air Force Academy.  No, I didn’t actually go to the Air Force Academy.  Rather, they came to me.  I was a young airman on my first assignment on a small Strategic Bomber Base in Arkansas.  The two-week writing class taught me everything I know.  Write as you speak, three main points, tell them what you’re going to tell them, tell them, and tell them again.  I like the part when they said it was ok to use contractions.  I vowed to use a lot of contractions.

In the military, we lived by building and giving briefings.  “Oh, honey, you’re upset?  I’m so sorry.  If you give me a twenty-seven-slide PowerPoint briefing on your feelings, I promise to do better.” The Air Force taught me to be as brief as possible while the CIA wanted thoroughness.  I must have sat through hundreds of eighty-plus page Agency slideshows where the point was lost back on number forty-seven.  No wonder it took eleven years to find Bin Laden.

In my last years as a consultant to senior government and military leaders, I learned to write as directly as possible.  Time is a senior executive’s greatest commodity.  In executive communication, put the ‘ask’ on the first slide.  I often never got past my first slide.  Nope, next.  These were the most common responses I heard.  I once wrote a highly classified, super-secret letter for the Director of the CIA.  My draft made it through the staffs of the NRO, NSA, and the CIA.  Nobody changed a word.  Not one word.  My boss was so impressed that I began to write speeches and other correspondence for the Director.

After some success, I decided that everyone in my office should now only refer to me as Ernest.  Ernest of Hemmingway fame.  When the Chief of Staff told me in public that Hemmingway used to wear women’s shoes, I quickly pivoted to Antonio.

I prefer Antonio from now on.  You may now address me as Antonio.

I just found out that two of my stories were published in Dispatches Magazine.  Dispatches is the quarterly publication of the Military Writers Society of America.  This is a big step for me.  The first story will make you proud and the second is good for a laugh. Thank you all for hanging in there with my attempt at writing.  A link to the is magazine is attached.