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 Forms: Don’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 Archive: Wondering 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 Life: From 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.
Interrogation: Professional, 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?