“Have you heard of a ship called the good Reuben James?”

“Manned by hard fighting men both of honor and fame?”

Woody Guthrie wrote these words in 1942 in his song about the USS Reuben James. The first American warship sunk in World War II; even before we were officially at war and five week before Pearl Harbor.

It was torpedoed in the North Atlantic while on convoy escort duty. The ship was sunk on 31 October, 1941– Hallows Eve and is one of the six missions in that book coming out this fall.

“Tell me what were their names, tell me what were their names?”

That’s the refrain in the song. Guthrie wanted to list all the names of those lost with the ship in the song; but with over 100 men going down with her, it wasn’t practical.

He’s pictured to the left with his guitar and his infamous logo.

The captain of the Reuben James, Tex Edwards, was a 1926 Naval Academy graduate who’d wrestled in the 1928 Olympics, coming in fourth.

While the sinking caused outrage in the United States, we did not declare war on Germany. It took the disaster at Pearl Harbor to thrust the country into World War II.

I’m always amazed at the history I learn while researching. One of the great perks of being a writer!

Here’s to the good men of the Reuben James. As long as their names are remembered, a part of them lives on!

Have you heard of a ship called the good Reuben James
Manned by hard fighting men both of honor and fame?
She flew the Stars and Stripes of the land of the free
But tonight she’s in her grave at the bottom of the sea.

Tell me what were their names, tell me what were their names,
Did you have a friend on the good Reuben James?
What were their names, tell me, what were their names?
Did you have a friend on the good Reuben James

Well, a hundred men went down in that dark watery grave
When that good ship went down only forty-four were saved.
‘Twas the last day of October we saved the forty-four
From the cold ocean waters and the cold icy shore.

It was there in the dark of that uncertain night
That we watched for the U-boats and waited for a fight.
Then a whine and a rock and a great explosion roared
And they laid the Reuben James on that cold ocean floor.

Now tonight there are lights in our country so bright
In the farms and in the cities they’re telling of the fight.
And now our mighty battleships will steam the bounding main
And remember the name of that good Reuben James.

 

Writer Wednesday: Conflict. The Fuel of your Story. And the Conflict Box

The conflict box is a way of diagramming the core conflict in your story. Fill each box out one at a time or else you’ll get overwhelmed. In our Writing Scenic Workshop, we first spend a lot of time honing down idea. Then we move on to the Conflict Box. It’s amazing what a simple diagram can bring out. Do you know who your protagonist is? Who your antagonist is? And remember, goal is not motivation. Goal is something concrete, external.

Talk Tuesday: What One Season TV Show Should Have Been Renewed?

Were they one hit wonders? Why weren’t they renewed? Who knows what the story behind the story is.

The most immediate that comes to mind is The Brink. Hilarious, and on target with its portrayal of politics with Tim Robbins as Secretary of State and Jack Black as the inept embassy employee.

Classicly, of course, there’s Firefly. They tried to make the planned second season into a movie with Serenity and you can feel it in the movie. Worked, sort of.

I was shocked to realize that Kolchak the Night Stalker only had one season. It was the X-Files before the X-Files.

The Dresden Files was another smart scifi show.

Any show you loved and was gone after just one season?

Writer Wednesday: The Creative Process

And, yes, like last week, before we get into the nuts and bolts of writing, let’s talk about Process. This is where you take the craft, what I’ll be covering for the next bunch of Wednesdays, and you turn it into art. Every writer has a different process. It’s a unique path you must find for yourself. So don’t think anything on craft is an unbreakable rule. Otherwise you’ll never become an artist.

And remember, the three rules of rule-breaking!

Talk Tuesday: Scariest Monster?

It’s said that monsters are humans externalizing their inner fears. As long as there have been legends and myths, there have been monsters. On maps of old, the parts that hadn’t been explored yet were marked simply: Here There Be Monsters. With some artistic license, ancient map-makers would draw monsters in those empty spaces. Usually attacking a ship. Just to make mariners feel all warm and comfy.

There have been untold numbers of monsters portrayed in books and movies. They range from the tiniest: nanotechnology and viruses, to the massive, Godzilla and the like. The tone with which monsters are presented runs the gamut from campy to ominous.

Naturally, the most dangerous monsters are the most real. And that would be people. But let’s not go there right now, although I do like what Peele did in Get Out. He took that element of scary movies, where the people in them always do the dumbest things and flipped it. “GET OUT!” Seriously. Never ever go check on that bump in the night. The Cabin in the Woods did something similar and was funny but also very scary.

There are some classic genre monsters: vampires, werewolves and the like. Stephen King is the master of the horror novel and he’s had a wide array of monsters. Pennywise in IT builds on our natural fear of clowns. Can’t sleep, clowns will get me.

I don’t know about others, but every so often I have the Godzilla dream, where something huge is stomping around hunting for me and I have to hide. A shrink could have a field day with that one– really that’s an easy one to knock out of the park.

I saw Alien when it first came out at the post movie theater near the quads at Fort Benning. The night before my first airborne jump. Not the smartest idea.

Stephen King’s Salems Lot made vampires very, very scary. Anne Rice’s Interview with a Vampire was a great read. Brilliant titles which tells you the core concept.

If you think about it, Jaws made a creature that exists into a monster. You’re much more likely to get hit by the idiot texting/driving monster than bitten by a shark.

I use monsters of legend in some of my books: kraken, Yeti, chimera, etc. Because I believe there is a kernel of truth in every legend. Even if its just a subconscious fear externalized.

Zombies are a classic example of something subconscious bubbling up. I’m not much into zombies, personally– no smart ass comments, thank you very much. Although there was one movie that twisted it and I liked: Warm Bodies.

Sacriest movies? Hmm. Jeepers Creepers was, well creepy. Tremors was scary at first, but also fun. “Picked the wrong rec room to break into!”

Looping to people being the scariest, Last House on the Left, the 1972 version, was banned in many places because it was all too real.

The scariest horror short stories I’ve read were King’s The Mist (the movie adaptation had one of the most devastating endings ever! but the TV version now is ARGH, bad). Who Goes There by John Campbell is very scary. Published in 1938. The movie The Thing From Another World was based on it. BTW, that’s Gunsmoke‘s James Arness as the Thing.

I’ll stop there or I’ll never stop. What monsters scare you?

 

 

Cool Gus says: The Reichstag Fire– a key piece of history that needs to be remembered

Because a similar event could happen again. In fact, it has. Putin blew up several apartment buildings in Russia at the turn of the century in order to consolidate power. Worked for him.

Sassy Becca agrees with Cool Gus. She’s lying there, thinking deep thoughts. Very deep thoughts.

The reality is that politics is a dirty business. War is an extension of politics by other means, some human named Clausewitz said (his dog passed that on). There are times when ruthless politicians wage war on their own citizens in order to further their own means. Cool Gus sometimes wonders if it shouldn’t be the other way around; dogs run things and humans just lay around and try not to make messes.

 

“You are not a wolf, and this is a land of wolves now.”

This is the last line in the movie Sicario.

Alejandro (Benicio Del Toro) says it to Kate Mace (Emily Blunt). From avenging assassin to FBI agent.

I re-watched the movie last night and it never gets old. I notice more details each time. As a writer, I know details are important. For example, when they stop during the convoy in Mexico, the missing women posters on the wall—those are Alejandro’s wife and daughter.

I think the movie wasn’t very popular because of the message; and because many people didn’t get the message in the first place, even though it’s clearly explained by Josh Brolin to Kate after they come out of the tunnels and she asks him what “Medellin” means.

The scene where Alejandro finally confronts Fausto Alarcon while he is eating with his family is one of the most stunning scenes I’ve ever seen. Fausto’s wife has a moment of clarity when Alejandro says “Don’t forget about my daughter.” At that moment, she knows her fate. The look on Fausto’s face after Alejandro takes action is perfect. A reality he inflicted on others but had never imagined for himself.

The movie is one of the most realistic portrayals I’ve seen of covert operations. How things really work. What’s interesting is that the last scene, before Alejandro says that line, he’s there to get Kate to sign a letter saying everything they had done was above board. They had to comply to the letter of the law. Of course, he puts a gun to her chin and tells her she will be a suicide when she initially refuses to sign.

We live in a country where the norms have gone out the window. Where common decency seems a lost art. Not among most Americans, but among the fringes on both ends.

Sicario was about the trade-offs made in the real world. Not the imaginary world where the lines between good and evil are clear cut. The world is gray. And those on the fringes of either end don’t see it as grey. They see it the way they want to see it.

That is a very dangerous thing. Because people who do that will deny fact. They will deny reality.

I see some tough times ahead. And most people aren’t wolves. But this is the land of the wolves now.

 

 

Writer Wednesday: On Being An Author

We covered idea last week, but this week, before we get into story and character and all that, let’s briefly talk about being an author. Because the craft of writing is only half the equation. If you want to be an author you need to understand the other half and here is an introduction to the program I use, Write It Forward. There’s a lot here!

Next week we’ll cover The Writing Process. How to go from being a craftman to an artist.