Jeff Messick is the author of the paranormal mystery, Knights of the Shield, and a forthcoming 4-part Fantasy series entitled MageHunter. He also served in the US Air Force for 9 years. Today, he shares his knowledge and recommendations for our readers who are writing about the military in their work. One watchword? Communication!
- The military continues to be a point of fascination for readers and writers. What is your favorite book that involves this context?
Red Storm Rising from Tom Clancy. Instead of his techno-thriller spy novels, this stand alone offered a good look at military techniques in modern warfare. Also, The Ten Thousand by Harold Coyle, if tanks are your thing.
- As a member of the US Air Force for 9 years, what were your responsibilities?
Air Traffic Control, tower control operator stationed at Kelly AFB in San Antonio, Texas. Sequencing and separation of aircraft in a terminal environment. I spent a few months in Saudi Arabia as well, in support of Operation: Desert Shield, doing the same thing, but with tons more aircraft and many more nationalities.
- Discipline is a trait often associated with work in the US military. Do you feel like your training in the Air Force influenced your style or approach to writing?
Not especially. I was writing before I was in the military and what I was taught militarily, didn’t affect my writing too much that I can tell. However, I do hold a lot of respect for the men and women of our armed services. They do an incredible job which, for them, can seem like a thankless task. I thank every service member I see, even those just getting in.
- Your novel, Knights of the Shield, examines the Det. Luke Graham’s struggles to track a serial killer imperiling his city. Did you feel your military training helped you provided a detailed representation of the law enforcement process? Do you see connections between your own background and the stories you prefer to write?
Military training consists of breaking down the person you are and building up a person that follows orders and pays attention to detail. Along the way comes a heavy dose of learning to communicate. Knights of the Shield is a transformative story that attempts to tackle some of the avenues of communication between several character groupings. For the police procedures though, I contacted the San Antonio Public Affairs officer of the SAPD and asked them questions. See? Communication!
- For authors considering exploring characters or contexts related to the military, what recommendations would you have for them (e.g., important topics for research, pitfalls to avoid)?
Any and every author can use the advice a writing instructor once gave me. “It’s not what you don’t know that will kill your writing. It’s what you THINK you know.” Apply that to all writing. As for the military, avoid what I call the NCIS effect, where the latest and greatest tech always saves the day. Tech doesn’t save people, people save people.
- What do you feel is the biggest misconception of the military, or specifically of the US Air Force, that you encounter in fiction?
The biggest misconception is the one usually portrayed on TV and in movies, done in one of two ways: Those military types that follow all orders and those that follow none. Military people are people like any civilian and as characters in a book, they should have all the associated color and background to make them effective and real, not the stereotype.
- What was the best lesson for daily life that your military training taught you?
Communicate, effectively. In Air Traffic Control, you must communicate effectively, or things can get ugly in a hurry. Secondly, something life taught along with military training. Keep emotions under control. Use them to fuel your efforts to get a project completed. Uncontrolled emotions cloud judgment and break down communication.
- Any other tips for writers hoping to explore the military in their writing?
Keep in mind what these folks have volunteered to do. Respect the military in your writing, even if the antagonist of your story is of military background. Understand that a military person is still a person, susceptible to everything any civilian is. Avoid stereotypes, because, like I said before, what you THINK you know about your writing will kill your writing.