Behind the book: Team Fear
The Team Fear series and a fiction novel in the production pipeline center on men and women in the military.
If we read much or often, then we will soon find our world expanded through the beauty, struggle, and/or reality of another writer's work. One writer who does that for me is Tim O'Brien.
First Lieutenant Jimmy Cross carried letters from a girl named Martha, a junior at Mount Sebastian College in New Jersey. They were not love letters, but Lieutenant Cross was hoping, so he kept them folded in plastic at the bottom of his rucksack. In the late afternoon, after a day’s march, he would dig his foxhole, wash his hands under a canteen, unwrap the letters, hold them with the tips of his fingers, and spend the last hour of light pretending.
As we read through Jimmy Cross' story, we see how he copes with the war through imaginings about the elusive Martha, who keeps pieces of his soul clean (notice how he cleans his hands before reading her letters) while the rest of him is "dirtied" by war. It is a painful and personal story that hits me in the feels every single time I read it. O'Brien's style is very direct, yet he buries the truth within his narration, circling ever closer to the true moment by recycling the story and its impact on every other character in the story.
I've written before about how this short story has on more than one occasion caused me to write about the things that I carry, the tangible and intangible. I carry a messenger bag and a laptop. I carry parental guilt and debilitating fear.
What do you carry?
They carried all they could bear, and then some, including a silent awe for the terrible power of the things they carried.”
The number one rule of Christmas dinner? It’s going to get messy.
The first time I cooked a turkey, it came out raw inside. I had left the slimy little packet of gravy and gizzards tucked inside. There were witnesses of course, because no great act of stupidity is complete without an audience. I was in the Air Force and it was the first time I hadn’t gone home for Christmas. For reasons I still don’t comprehend, I thought it would be easy. Well, not easy, but... okay. I didn’t expect seven hungry people waiting in my living room for hours!
Mom made it look easy. She had four kids, but that was never enough. She invited all the single people from her work, old family friends, new family friends, and the occasional oddball. More than occasional, really. We had some very eclectic holidays, but the food was always excellent. The turkeys came out browned like something out of a commercial. The homemade cranberry sauce sparkled in the crystal dish we used for holidays. The cold food was cold and the hot food was hot. And there were enough dirty dishes to fill a dishwasher three times over. Messy, but easy.
My first Christmas dinner didn’t go well, so writing An Untouchable Christmas was a little bit about redemption. Come on. If anyone could pull off a perfect dinner, it would be Sofia Capri. She once faced down a mob boss and went hand-to-hand with his lieutenants. After that, dinner with Logan’s family should be a piece a cake. Sofia is convinced it’s going to be a mess:
God, what was wrong with her? No part of her life had prepared her for a traditional Christmas dinner with a real family. Sofia braced her arms on the sink and leaned over; afraid she might puke. She’d only met his family once, and now she was suddenly inviting them to Christmas dinner. That meant his parents, his sister and her family, plus two of Logan’s friends, and two from the book group. Thirteen with Eli, Logan, and Sofia.
The moment he grabbed her from behind, a jolt spiked her nerves. She let out a squeal and half jumped into the sink, knocking her knees into the lower cabinet. “You scared me.”
Logan’s sigh ruffled her hair as he wrapped warm hands around her waist. “I can’t wait for the day you don’t jump every time I touch you.”
“I don’t.” Her back stiffened. She couldn’t help herself. Holiday meal planning had her nerves strung tight, and she couldn’t shake the dread that something worse was coming. No matter that the men who kidnapped her son were dead and gone, evil still existed. The mob didn’t go away.
Sofia and Logan’s first Christmas together doesn’t exactly go according to plan, but one this is certain: This holiday is one she’ll never forget.
Writing the chaotic dinner scene in An Untouchable Christmas, I channeled the Christmases from my childhood. Christmas was a big deal growing up, with my mother doing everything in her power—even when money was tight—to give everyone a “perfect” Christmas; occasionally going into debt to make everything just right. Stockings were filled with ginormous oranges, nuts, and chocolate. I remember doll clothes and Barbie dolls and my very own diary with a lock and key, because heaven knows what kind of saucy secrets a second grader has.
As an adult, I took after my mom, going a little crazy at Christmas. The rest of the year might be red beans and rice with a controlled budget, but Christmas, well Christmas meant pulling out all the stops and occasionally the credit cards. I had tub after plastic tub filled with Christmas decorations, lights, and music. The kids had more presents under the tree than that Dursley kid in the Harry Potter movies. And then I got divorced and my tubs of holiday cheer stayed behind while I moved back to Colorado where I grew up.
The first Christmas I pretended it wasn’t Christmas until the kids came home and we could celebrate together. By the second Christmas, I didn’t even want to pull out the tree I’d found on clearance. Money was tight, and unlike my mother before me, I didn’t have a magic wand to make a Christmas Spectacular out of crayons, glue sticks, and Dollar Store wrapping paper.
Enter our Christmas Fairy Godmother. My mother—the kids called her G—invited us to spend a week with her. I didn’t want to go. That’s the thing I remember, because I wasn’t in a holiday mood and I suppose I didn’t want the shadow of failure to follow me to my mother’s front door, but G insisted, so we went to visit her in Oklahoma. She made all our favorite foods and showered the kids with gifts. She watched the kids while she sent me off to get a pedicure. We went to kids movies and had the kind of Christmas I remember from childhood. It was literally the perfect Christmas because that’s what G excelled at providing.
When I wrote An Untouchable Christmas, I channeled that time in my life, because Sofia has gone from trauma and drama to normal, and she really doesn’t know how to handle normal any more than I knew how to handle Christmas on my own. Sofia is overwhelmed by Logan’s family taking over her kitchen, and the one thing that grounds her is making her grandmother’s cranberry sauce, which is really G’s recipe. Putting her recipe into my Christmas novella is like giving her a piece of immortality. She may be gone now, but every time I boil cranberries for her cranberry sauce, she is with me, helping me to make a perfect Christmas out of crayons, glue sticks, and last year’s wrapping paper.
In An Untouchable Christmas, Sofia’s holiday starts off marginally better than my sad-sack Christmas, until a mysterious phone call before dinner threatens her new security. One this is certain. This is one holiday she will never forget.
I hope you enjoy Sofia and Logan’s encore appearance as much as I enjoyed writing it.
What’s the one Christmas you can’t forget...for all the wrong reasons?
Memory is a tricky thing. Bad memories filter to the top while good memories settle to the bottom of a very deep well and we struggle to keep them alive. The key is to replace the bad memories with good—or drown the bad in that well, whichever works. I’m a violent sort, so I’ll be drowning those suckers. J
Christmases in our house growing up were always good, but that means I have only this vague recollection and warm, fuzzy feelings for the holiday. Well, all but one. The year I turned five, my father was recovering from a major car accident. Money was tight and we ultimately lost the house and Dad’s business to medical expenses.
That was the year someone adopted us. Just for Christmas presents that is. We were the little angels on a Giving Tree. The night before Christmas, a group of men brought what seemed like a truckload of presents for four kids and two adults. They deposited them under the empty tree just like Santa. I bounced on my toes in sheer joy at the mass of goodies. Too young to read, I didn’t know which presents were mine, but my older brother pointed out a ginormous and awkwardly wrapped present labeled “girl, aged 5.” It was bigger than me and taller than my teenage brother. It was mine, mine, mine!
As the men left to bring another load of goodies, I scooted closer to that funny shaped present. I may have poked the side and heard the wrapping crinkle. The finger may have—accidentally of course—punched through a spot in the wrapper. Come on, I was five. What would you do? I looked.
Inside was something soft, brown, and fuzzy. Fur! I couldn’t see the face, but I pictured a smiling bear face on this wonderfully massive gift. After the elves disappeared, Mom noticed a trail of white stuff all over the family room floor. Not just a few drops, but copious amounts of tiny white Styrofoam balls. Everywhere. She followed the trail to that awkwardly wrapped gift where, sure enough, a hole in the toe and wrapping caused it to bleed out all over the house.
She didn’t know I had seen and loved and coveted that fluffy, loveable, stuffed bear, because that would have meant admitting that I’d peeked. So she did what any mother would do. She waited until I went to bed.
Come Christmas morning, there was no awkwardly wrapped giant bear to unwrap. It had disappeared overnight. There were other presents under the tree for “girl, aged 5;” hats and gloves and girlie things, but what I remember most is that giant bear that could have been mine if he hadn’t leaked a trail of stuffing all over the family room floor.
That long ago Christmas may be why I’m a bit fanatical about making Christmas special for my kids. And why I wrote the not-quite-perfect Christmas story for Sofia and Logan. Don’t get me wrong, Logan’s trying to create good memories to drown out the bad of Sofia’s former life, so when the presentfest begins, Eli is in for a giant surprise:
With a squeal, Eli leaped from the table and ran for the tree. Wrapping paper flew as he shredded into the first present, a plastic dinosaur the size of a football. Holding her phone out, Sofia hunkered on the floor and snapped pictures. Dumbfounded by the wild activity, Logan perched on the floor against the sofa. Eli unwrapped several dinos before hitting the jackpot with a dinosaur sanctuary straight from the movies. The delight in his screams lit the house more than the Christmas lights. “Mom.”
“That one is all Logan.”
The boy’s eyes grew larger. “Thanks, Logan.”
“Couldn’t you find something bigger?” Sofia mocked.
“No.” He couldn’t take his eyes off Eli’s joyful face. “But I did try.”
“How long did you spend in the toy store?”
This time, he did turn to her. The teasing glint in her eyes and the lightness on her face hadn’t always been there. He’d done that, he thought, and it was a gold-medal moment. Making Sofia smile was his new goal in life. She deserved all the smiles she could get. “Blake and I might have spent two or three hours in the toy store,” he admitted. He pointed to Eli trying, and failing, to open the sanctuary box. “It was worth it.”
Christmas morning starts off perfect-ish in their house, but a mysterious phone call before dinner threatens more than their holiday celebrations. One thing is for certain. This holiday is one she’ll never forget.
“She couldn’t remember the last time she felt embarrassed, but porn in front of a seventy-four year old hitman would do it.” –Vicki Calvetti in Unforgettable
Memory plays a big part in Unforgettable. As much as Vicki tried, she couldn’t forget Blake, her once-upon-a-time boyfriend, but he’s not the only thing she’s tried to forget, and what she can’t remember could get them both killed. It’s too late for Vicki, but we can all use a little help remembering.
But not everything in life is meant to stick in our brains for the next fifty years. So what do you do when you want to forget?
5 tips to help you forget:
What's your favorite Memory Loss technique?
Dating when you have children is like having an overprotective older brother. A friend of mine had her son (aged 9) stare down a man at the pool for daring to look at his mom. I could see the writing on the wall with my son. He had a significant laundry list of “musts” for a potential step-dad.
The top three items on my son’s list were that the man play basketball, be independently wealthy, and have children, hopefully a boy my son’s age. My daughter’s list included the idea that a potential mate not have children.
As a consequence, when my kids were younger, I never let them know I was dating. They’d get a bonus trip to Parents Night Out, and think it was all for their enjoyment, so I could “sneak out” on a date.
The older they get, however, the harder it is to “sneak out.” Surprisingly, many men embrace the midday while-the-kids-are-in-school date because it’s low pressure. Equally surprising are how many times my children bought the lie that I was meeting friends for coffee. How much coffee do they think I drink?
But no matter how many times you meet for coffee or a late lunch, sooner or later you find yourself with the dreaded Saturday night date. Once you have kids, Saturday night requires some logistical maneuvers.
At 13 and 15, the kids are too old for Parents Night Out. They have to be fed, and possibly bribed to behave (pizza acts as both food and bribe). Plus there’s the fact that I haven’t told them I’m dating again.
My daughter figured things out pretty quickly, and her only concern was that I still have time for her. That’s an easy thing to promise. My son, however, was a different challenge. He’s protective in the extreme and has been known to get abrasive and verbally abusive to boys who get too close to my daughter (a habit I may or may not encourage). What would he think about me dating?
“So,” I say across the kitchen as I put away the dishes. “I have a date tonight.”
The third degree begins: what does he do, how many kids does he have, does he have pets, how did we meet. This inquisition continues long after the dishes are put away and the dishwasher reloaded. I answer them all and lean against the counter facing my son.
“That’s fine,” he finally says, “as long as he treats you right.”
Aw, how can I not love this kid? But before I get too happy, my son wags his finger at me. “But I get to meet him after three dates.”
I smile and think to myself, not going to happen. My friend Dan’s rule is that he has to be in a monogamous relationship for six months before he introduces a love interest to his daughter. I’m not sure I’d go with six months, but three dates is too soon. I’m sure there’s a happy middle ground.
I like the idea that we’re fated to be with certain people in our lives, so here’s a list of my top 5 romance movies where the characters try to fight fate (and fail).
You can fight the good fight with many things in life, but fate isn’t one of them. Blake and Vicki in Unforgettable might just be fated, but they’re both trying hard to fight the chemistry, history, and the way their lives continue to intersect.
There’s only so long that denial works, and Vicki isn’t exactly one for denying herself the pleasure of Blake’s company, but even if they accept their fate, they still have a mob boss, a hit man, and the Department of Justice to handle.
What's your favorite Rom Com? Let me know in the comments
Remembering those who died in service to their country
My time in the military feels like another life. It was pre-kids, so in many ways, it was a lifetime ago. Those who know me know that I am a strong advocate for military veterans and their families. Many of my students are prior military, and sharing their stories has helped me to reclaim mine.
When I told my mother I had enlisted in the Air Force, she cried. When I told her I was an aircrew member on the E-3 AWACS, she just knew I was going to die. I assured her that the E-3 was perfectly safe. It had never had a fatal crash.
I was both right and wrong. I survived my time in the military without injury, the E-3 was safe, yet they did have a fatal crash. One I cannot forget.
My last assignment in the Air Force was to the 962nd AWACS Squadron in Elmendorf (Anchorage), Alaska. A small squadron, everyone knew everyone, so when the news came on the radio that there had been a crash of an E-3 out of Elmendorf, I was stunned. Because I knew people on that plane. Because I had flown on that plane, from that base and squadron. Because it could have been me.
I was in Grapevine, Texas when I heard the news. Driving in my car across an overpass. The moment is a crystal clear snapshot. I was in shock.
Every once in awhile, an E-3 will do touch-and-goes near the local AFB and I will see the flash of the heavy black-and-white dome. That image transports me back to every good and bad thing that happened during my time in the military. It takes me back to that moment on the overpass when I heard the news.
Memorial Day is about remembering those who died in service to their country. Today I remember the crew of Yukla 27.
On Sundays I run a novel writing group at the local library. They're a diverse group of male and female writers of all ages, although there is a heavy slant toward the fantasy realm. And we're lucky enough that everyone clicks. Our novel writing goals unite us.
Yesterday we talked about character development and then we continued to create a class character named Harriet Crawford, whose name we chose from a website called Random Name Generator. Over the course of the last couple weeks, I've grown rather fond of Harriet. We created her as a group, so she has some surprising traits, like playing piano as a child and now she only plays piano when she's had too much gin. That's the kind of detail the class has given to developing her, and then we move on to group-brainstorm the protagonists for other members of the group.
It's been an engaging and stimulating process, and we all take home the knowledge and the energy.
The day before a book release
The day before a book release can be stressful. So many what-ifs and I'm a worrier, so lots of stress. It helps to keep busy. Saturday night, I stayed up half the night making a book trailer. Why? Because the use of my creativity in another arena helped divert my worry into something beneficial. Plus, I'm an insomniac. :)
And Sunday, I got to hang out with my book tribe. Each week, they thank me for my time, but they don't realize I get as much out of it as they do. Hanging out with other writers feeds my creativity and I go home revved up to write. To me, that's a win.
Some people like book release celebrations, and they have their place, but for me, I"m happy hanging out with my book tribe.
What do you enjoy when you're celebrating a milestone?
Funny story. During the Mercury Retrograde Incident in September 2016, Cindy's original blog disappeared. Five years, gone in a random act of chaos. Now she gets to repopulate her blog world one post at a time. Join her if you dare. :)