The painful process of maturation involves more than simply celebrating a significant birthday that celebrates one's legal majority. Literature recognizes the significance of this stage of life in "coming of age" stories, such as Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess, Less than Zero by Bret Easton Ellis, Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger, Great Expectations by Charles Dickens, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain, The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides, and All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque. The coming of age process entails a level of angst and pain that those of us who survived that stage decades ago can remember with mixed fondness and regret. We recall that stage of our lives when the world was our oyster, when life beckoned with vast potential, when opportunities seemed limitless.
Then reality kicked us in the teeth.
Although I've no direct experience, I imagine that basic military basic training and service accelerate the maturation process. Take an 18-year-old kid who's grown up without much responsibility and throw him into a situation wherein he's now subjected to physical and mental duress in the military's effort to break him down and rebuild him to their specifications, and that kid realizes that life has kicked him in the teeth--and that he's signed on for at least four years of indentured servitude. That differs vastly from the experience of the college student who eases into adulthood. Military recruits must master in mere months what most college students take four to six years to accomplish: the transition to responsible adulthood.
These thoughts arise from the first letter received yesterday from my younger son who's in basic training. The platitude is that the first week is the hardest. He misses his family, his home, and his cat more than he expected. I want to tell him that it will get better. Basic training doesn't last forever. If he does his best, keeps his nose clean, and masters the requirements, life will get easier. But I can't tell him that, because odds are high that he'll be deployed overseas after tech school. There's nothing easy about active duty service, especially for those enduring combat assignments.
My father enlisted in the Air Force, served in Vietnam, and afterward rose through the ranks to Lt. Colonel after transferring to the Ohio Air Guard. My mother was an Air Force nurse. My oldest brother enlisted in the Air Force shortly before the Gulf War. Although we didn't move around like many military families, I knew the life of waiting for a deployed family member to return home.
One of my earliest childhood memories is waiting with Mommy and two of my brothers--one a toddler, the other still a babe in arms, and the third not yet a twinkle in our father's eye--on the hot tarmac on a bright summer day as we waited for Daddy to get off the airplane. I remember my mother fretting that my father wouldn't be one of those soldiers who'd returned home. That memory sums up my personal recollection of the Vietnam War.
I also lived through Women's Lib, but don't remember that with any clarity.
Growing up, Dad was there or he wasn't. He usually returned from his overseas deployments bearing gifts. I still have the swag lamp he brought home from Spain, two cedar chests from Portugal, dolls from several other countries, a crystal candy dish from Germany. Not valuable in themselves, these items mark happy times when Dad came home. My own kids won't want them when I die, because they're my memories of a time when Dad was practically superhuman and Mom kept the home fires burning.
My younger son's own painful and accelerated transition to adulthood has begun away from family. It's more difficult than he anticipated. More painful. Decisions have new and forceful consequences, especially since Mom and Dad aren't there to protect him from the full impact. But, if he embraces the maturation process and speeds through the coming of age angst, he'll find joy and pleasure in the experiences of adulthood as well as pain and disappointment. Because that's life.
Embrace the suck, Brian. Your homecoming, however temporary when it finally happens, will be a happy time, too, to be savored and tucked away like the precious memory it will become.
This month I embarked upon a new foray: contests. Experts--at least I assume they're experts--tout contests as a good way to enhance promotion and, therefore, book sales of independently published authors. Indeed, when skimming through Amazon's book listings I see "finalist" and "winner" announcements inserted in book descriptions. So, perhaps, I ought to jump on the bandwagon, hm?
Dipping my virtual toe into the water, I submitted The Falcon of Imenotash to the writing contest held by Authors Talk About It. None of the contest categories quite fit the book, so I submitted it under "romance." "Paranormal" didn't seem to fit and "fantasy" wasn't offered. I paid the entry fee and waited.
Their review came back. In short, the book didn't hit that coveted 5-star review because in rating it the reviewers gave it a 2 out of 5 for genre. (Well, if they'd had fantasy in the category listing, it would have been a better match, right?) Anyway, the book received top marks for plot description and grammar (thanks, Cindy!), 4/5 for development, and 3/5 for appearance. In short, they didn't think much of my homemade cover design, which I thought was rather elegant.
The review pointed out a few flaws that I'll take to heart in writing future works, namely "The Falcon of Imenotash certainly wastes no time with exposition; rather, it jumps right into the meat and action of the story. Though a refreshing approach, perhaps it isn’t always effective. Some scenes and characters could have been developed a bit more thoroughly than they are." I thought the book got off to a fairly gentle start, but apparently my idea of gentle and theirs differs, too. That's OK; it just means I've got to learn how to be more subtle and spend more effort on nailing down descriptive detail without descending into boring information dumps. For what it's worth, ATAI isn't the first to state that particular criticism.
Then we have the rest of that paragraph concerning the breakneck pace of the book: "However, this rushed pacing doesn’t necessarily hinder the story; there are still plenty of details and development to help the reader follow along as the The Falcon of Imenotash progresses."
Next comes pure gold. This is the portion of the review that just makes me beam with pride and my heart go pitter-patter. Of course, I'm putting it in colored typeface to make sure it grabs your attention.
"A most unique fantasy, The Falcon of Imenotash rejects the common tropes of the fantasy genre; instead, it is a creative, distinctive, incredibly memorable work that incorporates everything from strict politics to mystical shapeshifting. It is exceptionally well-written, whether the scene is a battle, an act of lovemaking, or one of cruelty and abuse. Holly Bargo’s strong, tactful, and descriptive writing leaves the reader wanting more, chapter after chapter and long after the book is finished. The Falcon of Imenotash is a spectacular novel, captivating from beginning to end, and a most fulfilling read for anyone searching for a great fantasy novel that isn’t just the same old fluff."
Wow. Just... wow. Even though the book won't win the contest, I can't help but feel validated by this very flattering review.
So, read the book for yourself and leave a review. And, as always, feel free to contact me if you have any questions, comments, or suggestions--or if you'd like to volunteer as a beta reader.
My husband and I have reached that stage in our lives when our children reach adulthood. Seeing our boys grown tall and strong fills us with pride, but it's also a bittersweet time. We remember our boys as chubby babies and toddlers who relied on us for everything and were unstinting in their affection for mommy and daddy.
Today, we dropped off our youngest at a hotel where he'll be rooming with another military recruit. He will swear in tomorrow and fly off to San Antonio for basic training. My baby's life as an adult has begun. My husband and I can only hope that he learned the lessons and values we attempted to instill and that he'll adhere to them. We can only hope that basic training will make him stronger and more disciplined, not crush him. We can only hope that he'll find himself and a career path that satisfies or fulfills him. We can only hope.
Our little boy is all grown up now.
God, that hurts.
The house is quiet, except for one of the cats proclaiming that he killed the ribbon. Again. Guido loves killing that ribbon. Crickets chirp. A neighbor's little dog yaps like there's no tomorrow. And my mind reels with memories, mostly good memories, of my boys.
My older son turns 21 next month. He's a junior in college and has a steady girlfriend. I got engaged when I was that age, and the idea that he might do the same fills me with dread. He's too young, my heart shouts. He's eager to go forward with his own life, though. I understand that's as it should be and wonder if my own parents felt the same bittersweet emotions of pride mingled with sorrow when my brothers and I each left home in turns.
Where did the years go? Why didn't we take more family photos? Where did I go wrong and what could I have done better? These questions are pointless, yet I'm sure most parents ruminate upon them. So, we plod forward and try to figure out what to do with our lives sans children asking what's for dinner the moment they walk through the front door. We're taking small steps toward that new life for ourselves as the boys take big steps that remove them from our daily lives. We attend a festival or two. I went trail riding for the first time in three years--and rode my 32-year-old horse. (That's another story.) I gradually shift focus from the kids to friends and activities with them.
I never wanted to be the "helicopter mom" who hovers over her children. I wanted my kids to grow to be resourceful and independent. Yet I find myself a little lost without them. Perhaps I hovered too much for my own good.
Regardless, what's done is done. I can't change the past. I can only remain steadfast should they need me in the future. Which I hope they don't, because I know they need to be strong for their own sakes. And to my youngest boy, Brian, we will always be here for you if you ever need us. So will Stasia, because you'll still be cleaning her stall when you're 50 years old.
Inside joke that, referring to the currently 32-year-old horse who will live forever to spite us all.
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Rescued from domestic abuse, Bratva princess Inessa recuperates from the latest beating in the home of Giovanni Maglione, the mafia captain of Cleveland. Learning that her husband double-crossed the Chinese triad, and they want their pound of flesh--and they're happy to take it out of Inessa--her parents ask Giovanni to marry their newly widowed daughter. The Chinese triad will be looking for a Russian mobster's wife, not the wife of an Italian mobster. Inessa agrees to this marriage of convenience which, of course, isn't so convenient. The ruse fails, which forces Giovanni into a violent and bloody mob war, because he protects what's his... and Inessa is most definitely his.
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In my jaunt to GenCon a couple of weeks ago, I noticed that most of the authors exhibiting there were mature adults, at least in their forties, if not two or three decades older. I have decided that mature adults write the best fiction because we have more life experience than younger generations and because knowing a little bit about a lot of things comes in handy.
For example, I'm ghostwriting a political science fiction thriller that incorporates some supernatural elements. The client's draft contains myriad inconsistencies and discrepancies that my "knowing a little bit about a lot of things" detected and corrected. Such bits of knowledge arise from a spelunking trip, target shooting, and other snippets of knowledge gleaned from close family members who proudly admit to being "motorheads."
That's not to say that I know everything. Not by any degree. On the contrary, what I don't know exceeds by far what I do know. However, I have realized that my life experiences differ from that of most people. When I'm ghostwriting historical fiction, I know how horses would react to the noisy, newfangled motorcars coming at them. And I know how far the average horse could be expected to travel in one day. (Hint: You'd probably get to your destination faster on your own two feet.) I know that something must propel a bullet from the chamber through the barrel of a gun, regardless of the type of bullet used. I also know that zippers weren't invented before 1850 and that women didn't wear panties until the 20th century. I know that guns have a distinct odor before (gun oil) and after (cordite) they've been shot. I know that llama and alpaca spit isn't really spit; it's projectile vomiting. (They've got accurate aim and good range, too.)
Snippets of information. Scattered knowledge. Those add depth and accuracy to my trade as a writer. What I don't know, I research where warranted.
That's the operational phrase: "where warranted." For instance, in my Russian Love series, I didn't conduct any in-depth research on mafia organizational structure or subculture because the books in the series need to present the criminal heroes in a sympathetic light. Members of criminal organizations don't enjoy reputations for being kind and gentle people who make a practice of giving rather than receiving. Therefore, I sanitized and softened the organizations and the prominent characters involved. Their morality may be casual and they may perform terrible acts, but it all serves their families and the women they love.
When I send my own manuscript to an editor, I rely upon that individual's life experience to catch those errors in my stories wherein my research and/or ambient knowledge is lacking. These bits of knowledge add touches of realism to even the most unrealistic fantasy. Those touches of realism ground the story in experiences to which readers can relate even if the reader has no direct experience with that particular sensation or activity.
That can make writing difficult, because my mind tends to dwell on the unavoidable details of life. When writing The Mighty Finn, I felt the need to mention the heroine's attention to her dog's physical needs, including trips to pet relief areas. When ghostwriting a murder mystery for a client, I pointed out to the client that his hero never ate and rectified that.
The necessities of life don't often appear in movies because they don't need to. However, in the more leisurely progress of a novel, these details help the reader engage. They add depth. A heroine who never pays attention to her body's calendar except to note that her period is late smacks of a lack of realism. Biology's huge impact upon our lives deserves acknowledgement in our stories.
That quality of maturity which imbues a little bit of knowledge about a lot of things not only informs and improves my capabilities as an editor, but also as a writer. There is no substitute for life experience.
Hard boiled, scrambled, over easy, and sunny side up: eggs are the musings of Holly Bargo, the pseudonym for the author.