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Tuesday, December 15, 2009

An Officer and a Reader (Well, More Than One) By: Michael L Helfstein, USNR (Ret.) and Author Linnea Sinclair

I’ve always been a reader. The first series I remember is the Lensman (I know, that goes way back). I used to read under the covers with a flashlight when everyone else went to bed, and I’d always wanted to write. Of course, real life intruded with a family, and an IBM career concurrent with a Navy Reserve career both of which kept me fairly occupied. They were also a close parallel, clerk to advisory programmer in IBM, seaman recruit to Lieutenant Commander in the Navy.

Finally, as a retiree from both the Navy and IBM, I was able to take the time to try to write. I picked up one of Linnea’s novels in Borders (Games of Command) and fell in love with her writing. Her web site’s URL from the back of the book led me to her forum which BTW is full of terrific published writers and that really attracted me!

Somehow, the fact that I was a retired Navy mustang came to Linnea’s attention and she asked me if I could help her with Navy traditions in novel she was writing, Hope’s Folly (plug) I was delighted and Linnea started asking questions prompting research and my teaching her what it means to be Navy. It helped having been both enlisted and commissioned officer (that’s a mustang BTW). Traditions, procedures, daily activities, all the things that make up being Navy! I’m still helping as best I can. And I’m learning to write from her as well, she’s a wonderful teacher. -M.L. Helfstein, USNR (Retired)

I’ve always been a reader too, drawn in as a wee kidling by childhood books with their swashbuckling heroes. I grew older but my affinity for heroes—swashbuckling or not—didn’t change, though I soon realized that the boy with the magic sword or the prince with a white steed were characters I was unlikely to meet outside of the pages of a book.

But then there was my Uncle Andy, a retired US Air Force navigator from WWII who would patiently sit beside me in my nighttime back yard and point out the constellations. And my Uncle Lou, a retired US Navy sailor who knew all sorts of things about winds and tides—and had fascinating stories of fighting in the Pacific, and life on board the big ships.

Real heroes. No magic sword. No white steed, but real heroes all the same.

The first military hero I ever created was Admiral Branden Kel-Paten (Games of Command, Bantam Dell). Actually, I created him so long ago he was Captain Kel-Paten when we met in my imagination. He made me examine things like loyalty and duty. He made me fall in love with him…and realize that while magic swords are cool and white steeds set a certain fashion statement, the true heroism is something that comes from deep inside.

There’ve been other military heroes—male and female—I’ve created but none surprised me quite like Philip Guthrie, who first appeared (much to my surprise) in Gabriel’s Ghost, my 2006 RITA ® award winner. Philip was a minor character and I initially saw him as an antagonist, an example of the military mindset gone wrong. But there was a hero deep inside Philip and through Shades of Dark and then in Hope’s Folly that heroism grows—in spite of the best laid plans of the author and the questionable ethics of the military organization he originally allies with.

So what does this have to do with my world building and craft class on Building Your Space Military (or whatever you need in your created world)?

Characters are inexorably tied to their environment, just like vegetables, shrubbery, and real people. And the environment of a military (good or bad) inexorably molds those characters. It’s a unique one in many ways: size, scope, length of commitment, purpose. Your character could be a physician who’s taken the oath to heal. But if your character is a military physician, she’s taken not only the oath to heal, but the oath to defend and protect her galactic political realm. Double duty, pun intended.

It’s the oath to protect and defend (and yes, law enforcement shares that) that fascinates me. So the structure that creates that is the basis of this class. Space captains, lieutenants, admirals, and fleet doctors have long populated science fiction and its subgenres. With the able assistance of a real life (retired) US Navy officer, we’re going to work on ways you can build the best danged space fleets or fantasy armies or alternate-universe special ops divisions in, well, the galaxy. Complete with real heroes in whatever universe you want to place them in.

A-ten-HUT! Fall in, recruits. Class begins in January. -Linnea Sinclair


Heather Massey said...

Long live Branden Kel-Paten, Philip Guthrie, and Michael L. Helfstein!

Karin Shah said...

I'm with you Heather! Kel-Paten is probably my favorite hero of all time!

Karin Shah
An undercover agent, a beautiful space pirate, with the fate of the galaxy at risk, love may not be enough....

Pauline B Jones said...

Love that Kel-Paten, too! Great blog! I wondered how you and Mike met. Coolness. :-)

Pauline Baird Jones
THE KEY, avail now