I Think I’m In Love (Plus Thoughts on Pioneers & Unassuming Heroines)

No, not in love with a man.  (Or with a woman, for that matter.)  But rather, with a book.

Oh, come on, now, don’t give me that look!  Like it’s never happened to you.

Here, allow me to explain.

Pioneering OSS Agents (need I say more?)

While on vacation I was reading (studying, more like) this super interesting book called Operatives, Spies, and Saboteurs: The Unknown Story of World War II’s OSS by Patrick K. O’Donnell…and OMG, it has all sorts of information I haven’t been able to find about technology just before and during WWII.  (It’s the little things in life that make me squeal with delight, simultaneously rousing my muse to an uber happy place.)  This book talks about what kind of training their recruits had to go through, some key operations and also some of the gadgets spies used back then like knives disguised as pens, fairly elegant dart guns, and the “L” (lethal) pill, among other things.  (Whispers: it even has pictures!)

Quite fascinating, really, and I’m simply in awe by the amount of research that went into putting this book together.  Lots of riveting first-hand accounts.  (I haven’t read a book this interesting in ages, so I guess this says something about the fiction I’ve read in that time, eh?)

…And the whole time I’m reading it I’m mentally generating scene ideas for my next novel while meditating on how to improve various details in my current WIP to make them more life-like.

Entertainment, education, inspiration… What more could you possibly ask for in a historical novel?

Why Else This Book Rox My Sox

It’s especially lovely because it almost reads like a genre historical war/espionage thriller yet at the same time is so informative.  (The only big difference is that the author likes to tell you things before he reveals them via storytelling.  “Operation X would be his demise.  This is how it happened.”  He does it more elegantly than this, of course, and in more detail, but that’s pretty much how it goes down.)

Also, when reading the first-hand accounts, you really do get a sense of the character of a lot of these guys and the human aspect of being involved in a pioneer organization.  One of my favorite passages was regarding a mission to gather intelligence in Istanbul; surviving team member Spiro Cappony recalls:

I accepted the mission and was joined by two other team members, A. Georgiades and Mike Angelos, and they said, ‘Gus (they called me Gus), how the hell are we going to get to Istanbul?’  This is how new we were.  ‘Who’s going to meet us?’  ‘A guy by the name of Spurning, he’s a professor from Yale University.’  One of them said, ‘How the hell are we going to know who the guy is?’  I said, ‘Well, my orders say he’s going to show a ruby ring on his finger.’  ‘Man oh man these guys are crazy,’ remarked one of the guys. (107)

I mean this is enough cause and inspiration for me to make parodies of the classic spy story or something.  I love it.

Here’s another brief passage that I just love about an operational group, comprising Greek-American and Greek national recruits, who were to be deployed in Greece:

At [Camp Patrick Henry in Virginia] our boys would march and sing, both in English and Greek, and the entire camp would say, ‘Who are these guys?’  We were dressed smartly, had new experimental clothing including jump boots, and we were the first unit to be assigned the new Eisenhower jacket.  We looked good, acted good, and the biggest thing, we felt good. (110-111)

Yeah, classic cocky guy talk and behavior.  I am just itching to write about more characters like this in my next novel who are new to some experimental endeavor.  (Much like America’s pioneering airmail pilots, who have also been a big inspiration for me; I guess you could say I have a thing for pioneers, heh.)

As it turns out, though, my heroine is more of a “sky spy” than a conventional field agent (kind of playing off those conspiracy stories that claim Amelia Earhart was spying on the Japanese here), so I’ll probably get more mileage out of this historical account after I start writing the next novel…like sometime next year, heh.  Still, it does help.

Learning Along With Your Characters

Sometimes I feel I’m at a big disadvantage in that I don’t have any experience in the types of things I want to write about, so reading books like this really helps to put things in perspective for me.

I remember when I first started doing drafts of my novel how I wanted to write about a heroine who was highly experienced in all of tasks she is hired to do throughout the story but then later decided to go the route of someone who was new to many aspects of her world.  T. S. Bazelli once wrote an article about Lost World Fiction in her Speculative Fiction Genre Glossary Project, and while talking about the Lara Croft adventures I mentioned how originally I wanted to write about an actiony Croft-type character who was not only adventurous and very knowledgeable in her field but could also kick some serious butt.  However, the more my story evolved and the more I learned about my leading character, the more I realized that this approach wasn’t right for her story because I was starting it at a point in her life where she didn’t (yet) have those kinds of qualities.  Instead, she starts off more like Evelyn from The Mummy, with some background in art history and pretty much zero experience as a treasure-seeker or gunfighter–thank you very much, Mr. O’Connell-types.

And as a first-time novelist I think there’s some advantage to not writing about a woman who is super kick-ass heroine right off the bat, but rather an unassuming heroine–one who is clearly not everything her employers need her to be though chooses to undergo transformation in order to become that person.  (This is a perfect place to start with a protagonist if you’re writing epic fantasy, I think, and I suspect my story could actually be classified as epic, though it is not traditionally so.)  For one, as she learns more about her world and is trained to acquire new skill sets, the reader also learns about the world and how things are supposed to work.  Also, as the author, such an approach allows you to learn things as you go along–especially during the editing stage when you’re trying to color in those little particulars you just kind of sketched in before.

…Which is kind of nice when you know just a little as your protagonist going in!

So Yeah, This Has All Been Extremely Fascinating…

But I really should get back to work now!  (Returning from vacation doesn’t make this easy, heh.)

Though, I do still need a prompt…

What are/were some major sources of inspiration for your current or most recent WIP?

Also, how has learning more about that source shaped the direction you chose to take your story in?


8 thoughts on “I Think I’m In Love (Plus Thoughts on Pioneers & Unassuming Heroines)

  1. I kinda wanted a kick ass heroine for my first novel, but then quickly found out that the story demanded she was a regular sort of girl, and had to change to become more than she was at the start. Definitely looking forwards to the next one. Could use a bit more action LOL

    Inspiration lately? Reading short stories out of my normal range of choice. They have my brain humming in all sorts of new directions and with possibilities! Not exactly WIP related, but still good 🙂


    • I normally don’t read many short stories (I was following both Clarkesworld and Lightspeed Magazine for a while but then stopped when school got hectic); though, after Stephen’s blog post on Catherynne M. Valente’s short story, I’m thinking maybe I should!

      Whose stories have you been reading, btw?


  2. Well, I’ve called my current WIP “Mad Max meets Final Fantasy”… so you could say that’s my inspiration. It’s post-apocalyptic epic fantasy with a steampunk edge. I’ve been reading up a lot on the Steampunk side of things, and I’ve got a lot of background in the epic fantasy side (having been decently well-read in the genre, at least prior to Grad School, which set my reading back a few years). I can’t say I’m doing a lot of research for it, though. Creating lots of background material whole-cloth, but fairly small amount of actual “I need to know more about this” research.

    The original inspiration for my story, though, was two-fold. I drew a map some years ago for an RPG campaign world I was designing – and on that map I included a geographical feature that just begged to be explored in greater detail: what is it and why is it there and who’s responsible? (The name of the geographical feature implied a human provenance.) Then, some years later, I had a mental image of a young lady or a girl standing near to this geographical feature and gazing toward it, wistfully and curiously, the wind blowing her hair. And I wondered, “who is she” and “why is she here”. Answering those questions was the basis for this story. Ultimately, I didn’t expand on that RPG campaign world, but I pulled that geographic feature out and have now grown up a whole new world around it.


    • That sounds like it’ll be tons of fun, heh.

      Also, that’s interesting how your story started out, in part, with a piece of imagery like that. When I started journaling story ideas they all came to me in the form of settings I’d visualized (and then I started trying to Photoshop them by blending images together and altering them, heh). Then all these other ideas started bombarding my imagination: “OMG, I have to have pilots and spies” and whatnot…

      It’s funny how story’s evolve, though, over time.


  3. I enjoy movies with kick-ass heroines (Kill Bill, Kick-Ass, Resident Evil, Underworld, etc.), but I’ve never written a character like that. I’ve written women who could kick some ass, but I guess I don’t write the kind of stories where the ability to kick ass is really the decisive thing.

    I just finished a series of mystery stories where the detective character couldn’t kick any ass even if she wanted to, but she can analyze complex situations,she can spot tiny clues and figure out their significance, she can speak several languages fluently. And she dresses really well.

    Inspirations for my WIP? September 11th, I guess, at least indirectly. Not the politics of it, but the experience of living through it, being in the middle of it and having no idea what was even going on.

    Oh, and I usually don’t like that “it would be the death of him, this is how it happened” type of thing. I’ve done it a couple of times, for very specific reasons, but generally I avoid it. It can be effective, though. Kubrick’s movie of Lolita starts with the ending, for example, and Orson Welles did that with a lot of his movies as well.


    • I think initially I may have avoided writing about such a competent character because I questioned my own competence in writing about one, haha. But the route I ended up taking is probably just as challenging, in other ways…

      September 11th–you and I would share that one. I have to admit, I kind of had al-Qaeda in mind when I fashioned my “bad” guys (whom I haven’t really mentioned here before), combined in part with the Somali Pirates. Send them back in time to a slightly older-styled world with airships and voila! Instant antagonists, lol.

      About the “it happened like this” kind of deal, I noticed they kind of do this in the Philip Marlowe radio/podcast adventures I was listening to a while back, as well. Seems to lend itself to noir-ish material.

      I don’t really have a problem with it, though; it’s just less common to see nowadays.


        • Yeah! About the private eye. I don’t remember how I came across listening to the radio shows exactly, but this site has a huge collection of the shows that you can listen to and/or download. (It’s got the radio ads and everything!) I was putting them on my MP3 player and listening to them in the car when I was in school, haha.

          I don’t know the voice actor of the episodes I’d downloaded (like #59 “The Hairpin Turn”), but I absolutely love his voice. Oh wait, it says it was Gerald Mohr for CBS’ The Adventures of Philip Marlowe series…so yeah.

          *sighs* God, I could die listening to his voice. I love the way people talked back then–even the little breathless, helpless types. Quite amusing.

          I wish I could emulate that kind of dialogue in my writing, though you couldn’t really communicate most of the intonations across the page. I’ve got a few characters it would suit nicely, in any case.


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