Writer Resources for Military Nonsense (aka That Blog Post I Promised At Norwescon)

Norwescon was great, except for the food poisoning.

Y’know what really frustrates me? I knew. I freakin’ knew I was taking a risk in getting food from the pop-up stand in the hotel atrium. Normally I’m real careful about food at cons and such, to the point that I’m perfectly happy to spend way too much money on food just for the sake of taking care of myself and being safe. But I was in a rush, they had chicken teriyaki, there was no line…and yeah, that part sucked.

But the panels were great! Hanging out with people was great, too!

During one particular panel, “Researching the Military,” I said I’d do a blog post to share resources I use. This list will largely be a repeat of a similar post from a couple years ago, but I figured I’d repeat it for ease of access.

Two things I want to reiterate from panels I was on this weekend:

  • To quote one of my college history professors, “Every book is written for a reason.” Be critical of your sources. Often the ooh-rah factor in military literature will make things sound awesome when they’re not so amazing. Many articles and tech pieces are just as focused on salesmanship or cheerleading as on providing info (or more so). Conversely, some sources will be very negative based on personal experience, politics, etc. Whenever you read in your research, ask yourself, “Why did the author write this?”
  • If you’re writing about a military in a futuristic or fantasy setting, look into more than one real-world military for inspiration. American writers (and readers!) tend to assume militaries should be like the American military, and things that diverge from that example may be jarring. That’s no reason to be slavishly loyal to the American example. Ethnocentrism is a bad thing. The truth is there’s more than one way to run an army, and you’ve got to take into account things like society, economics, and politics. Think outside your box.  (And now my sources will be heavily slanted toward the American military, because that was in fact largely my model for the Poor Man’s Fight series. Naturally.)

So. Sources! These are, of course, largely comprised of sources I have used in my writing.

 US Navy Style Guide :  A short, easy reference for modern military writing grammar, mechanics, etc.

Dictionary of Navy Slang : Extensive and explicit! It goes on… and on… and on…

Official Department of the Army Publications and FormsDon’t know how something is done? You might start looking here. An incredible wealth of Army training and doctrine manuals are available free online. If you’ve never done this sort of research, you’ll probably be amazed at how much stuff isn’t classified.

60 Great Military Blogs and Websites: Yeah, I’m cheating by linking to an aggregating site, but this is a super useful list. Also I highly recommend AngryStaffOfficer.com because he’s insightful, creative, and hilarious. His Star Wars fan stuff is hysterical.

Medal of Honor Society ArchiveWondering if your battle scene is over the top? Check yourself here. Medals come with a citation describing how they were earned. This website provides a full listing of MoH recipients and their citations.

Victoria Cross Registers 1856 – 1944: Much like the MoH link above. Includes scans of primary source documents.

The Basics of Shipboard LifeFrom the US Navy Ready for Sea Handbook (US Naval Reserve)

US Naval Academy: Specifically, this links to a list of academic majors. This is the sort of character-building thing I find lacking in a lot of military-oriented fic. Writers often gloss over this stuff, but characters should have a career path. Their area of expertise matters. Nobody’s awesome at everything. Presumably your fictional space captain learned something in school…?

Guns!  From author Chuck Wendig’s blog. ’nuff said.

InterrogationProfessional, non-violent techniques. Because torture is for bad guys and bad writers. Hollywood got into a real bad and ugly habit of portraying torture as something a hero has just gotta do ever since 9/11, and it SUCKS. This is amateurish and stupid and it does real harm. Don’t be like Hollywood.

Nukemap by Alex Wellerstein: Pick a town, pick a bomb yield, and see how far the effects go on a Google map. I am not responsible for any lost sleep. You’re welcome!


Violence: A Writer’s Guide by Rory Miller. I can’t recommend this highly enough.

What It Is Like to Go to War by Karl Marlantes.  Marlantes served as a US Marine officer in Vietnam. His account of the war and his struggles with its aftermath are deeply and painfully honest and worth the read. (Caveat: As I mentioned in the panel on toxic masculinity, this book is heavily gendered. Marlantes struggles with the problems of expressing his feelings and general honesty that rise out of toxic masculinity, but even as he overcomes so much of that he still frames things in a very gendered way.)

The Making of a Legionnaire: My Life in the French Foreign Legion Parachute Regiment by Bill Parris and also Life in the French Foreign Legion by Evan McGorman. This is the sort of thing I meant about thinking outside the American box. The Foreign Legion takes in recruits from all over the world while holding to its own traditions and values, leading to challenges unlike those faced by any other military. I highly recommend it (also, Parris’s book is just a great read).

Combat Leader’s Field Guide by Sgt. Maj. Brett Stoneberger, USA (Ret.) Lots of infantry basics and many drawings and diagrams useful for a writer.

U.S. Army Intelligence and Interrogation Handbook Oh hey look, another source about interrogation. Can you tell I feel strongly about this subject?

11 thoughts on “Writer Resources for Military Nonsense (aka That Blog Post I Promised At Norwescon)

  1. Robert-Martin Rass

    Hope you will post more cos its naow the laat cource of your righting i haw left

    Big fann from Estonia

  2. Jordan


    Left a post with a scattering of questions about Personal Demons and future GI stories as a comment on the Personal Demons Audiobook and print announcement a couple posts back. I’m very curious about those questions, but I have a couple other ones.

    1. Are you aware that Tess flipped her characterizations of Molly and Onyx for Life in the Shadows? (Onyx sounds like Molly for two short stories and Molly sounds like Onyx)? Was this intentional, as a sort of Easter Egg, or a confusion that no one caught?

    2. Are there any plans to include Molly’s uncle “Officer Shoots-Your-Ass” in any of the novels? What about the former paramedic Shannon and her chunk of the succubus Serena? With Lydia loose and the protection of the master relationship with Lorelei stripped away, would a fling with Shannon be advisable or training for dealing with Lorelei’s unleashed lusts or Lydia’s possible revenge?

    3. Both Lorelei and Rachel have been encouraging Alex to loosen up. Will he have a chance to put their advice into practice with classmates, or at his new job (whatever that might be) or in any of the various realms where he might kick around? The last two adventures, he’s turned into the ultimate wingman for first Jason then Drew. Will Wade be following a similar path? Does Wade have enough familiarity with or aptitude for magic to apprentice as a magical gunsmith?

    4. Will we learn more about the mercs from Colonel Dalton’s old command and what put Dalton himself on Lorelei’s list? What about their current off-the-books employer? Will that be Zaphira’s chunk of the next adventure?

    5. Will there be opportunity to see any of Alex’s former coworkers from Keating and Rose?

    1. Elliott Kay Post author

      1. Yeah, that was a goof and Tess felt awful about it. It had been a while since she had read for these characters and given the events of the first story (specifically Molly being hit with a fear effect and Onyx being the one to pull her along), I can understand how it happened. I don’t get to hear the books before they’re released so there was no way for me to catch it. That said I’m still totally happy with her performance. I really can’t express how happy I am to work with her.

      2. Officer Shootsyourass will likely appear again as appropriate. I don’t have much plans for Shannon yet, but inspiration may strike at any time. I’m inclined to say she’s one fling Lorelei would rather steer Alex away from, but not out of jealousy.

      3. Maybe! Don’t know. 🙂

      4. That’s the plan.

      5. I haven’t thought of such a run-in yet but anything’s possible.

  3. Aditya Kushalappa

    Hi, fan from India here. Bought and read the GI series last year and liked it a lot. Wasn’t too sure about the PMF series but gave it a chance anyway and I’m glad I did. Thank you. I just have 2 questions

    1. Although Alex’s Mom Michelle has appeared in two books of the GI series, there has been no mention of a guardian angel assigned to her. Was this unintentional or has Michelle somehow lost Heaven’s favor?


    2. Will Tanner Malone ever have a serious and committed relationship?

    1. Elliott Kay Post author


      1. She has one, but yeah, no mention so far. Michelle’s guardian just hasn’t been around for those scenes. Plus as implied in Personal Demons, the strain in covering everyone means that during gatherings a lot of guardians will check out to go look after others. If Rachel is there, any others will usually take that as a chance to go look in on the rest of their mortal charges. That’s not a constant, of course, since there are plenty of other scenes where there are multiple guardians talking, but it’s a factor.

      2. Ever? Probably. I like those. At the very least, Dead Man’s Debt ends with a commitment to figuring out where his relationship is, so there’s that.

  4. Przemek

    What did Lorelei do to Michelle in first book? She tells Alex “you suspect and not knowing is always worse” or something but am I really that dense I can’t figure it out? If she just made Michelle prettier than why not say it out loud to Alex? Other than that awesome series and we are waiting for more. Whole Alex in Middle East story is the best. I like when he is using his past life experience/s

    1. Elliott Kay Post author

      She put a little of her sexy-magnetism on Michelle, but more importantly she influenced Michelle to overlook her presence. Alex knew she was going to do that, but not to the extent Lorelei took it.

  5. Scott Guthrie

    Just a quick bit of feedback on Poor Man’s Fight and Rich Man’s War.

    I enjoyed Poor Man’s Fight, and I’m enjoying Rich Man’s War. I think you have a great grasp of the realities of the Civilian controlled Military model! As a veteran myself, I appreciate your perspective on this! Excellent stuff!

    But on to the other feedback! I’ve noticed that the word “compliment” is used in several places in both books incorrectly. in almost every case I’ve noticed, I’m certain you meant “complement”, and I suspect your spell checker did you a disservice. For example, on pg 57 of Rich Man’s War: “The outfit complimented Vanessa’s light-brown skin…” and pg 254: “We’re talking about more than doubling our crew compliment, ladies and ….” both should be “complement”.

    In Poor Man’s Fight, there are 3 instances of “crew compliment” (2 on pg 166 and 1 on pg 172) that all should be “crew complement”.

    Clearly a niggle, and these certainly don’t detract from your quite excellent stories, but in this day and age of digital publishing, I thought you might want to know in case you get an opportunity to do updates/fixes!

    On a note related to this Blog Post, I’d like to suggest a great book on the Cold War and US Navy Submarines that might be a good reference for some aspects of your stories: “Blind Man’s Bluff” (Sontag, Drew, Drew) (https://www.amazon.com/Blind-Mans-Bluff-Submarine-Espionage-ebook/dp/B0089EMLGK/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1495026039&sr=1-1&keywords=blind+man%27s+bluff). Not sure how/if it would fit in in any way, but I know when I read this book it opened up my perspective on how submarines are/can be used that might have some correlation with the Starships in your universe.

    Again, fantastic stuff! Thank you.

  6. Dannan Tavona

    Rory Miller’s book is an eye-opener. Reading is forcing me to rewrite chapter 16. Also finding Benjamin Sobieck’s book on Weapons useful. Just swung by to see how you’re doing, what your upcoming work will be, and hoping to be surprised by another book I can buy. Ah, well.

    I’ll be back. (Wait, that’s already been used before… )

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