What 9/11 Taught Me About Antagonists & the Importance of Compassion

I was riding with my mom to school that day when we heard the emergency broadcast signal turn on…and then the reports started coming in. Students spent the morning watching the story unfold on the news. It was a surreal moment, knowing that people’s lives were in danger and the only thing you could do was sit there and listen about it.

Today, I was driving in my car with the radio on. The station I was listening to started playing a tribute with clips from the attacks and some music in the background. I thought about the videos we saw, how some people made the choice to jump from the towers rather than burn alive. Made me wonder how I would have reacted in that situation.

Of course, I’ll never know—and I hope I’ll never have to. Still, the thought alone was enough to make me cry.

I didn’t personally know anyone who was physically there at the Towers back when they were attacked on September 11th.  Still, I can’t say that the events which took place that day haven’t altered my life here in America. We’ve exchanged personal freedoms for an increased sense of security—an exchange I question as to its effectiveness at deterring terrorists, if I’m honest. Our security measures were a reaction, and it makes me wonder if we continue to remain a few steps “behind” those we call our enemies. (Say what you will about al-Qaeda and other terrorists we face today, but they’re certainly not stupid.)

Of course, these thoughts and events have inevitably influenced my writing.

What 9/11 Has Taught Me About Antagonists

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10 Dieselpunk or Diesel-Era Action/Adventure Movies & TV Shows (Part I)

I’ll try to make this one quick, but in a nutshell…let’s talk movies and TV shows.

…Dieselpunk or diesel-era-inspired ones, that is!


Any kind of story that is set in or inspired by the early 1900s almost always catches my interest, so today I thought I’d share some of my favorite action and adventure movies and TV shows that fall under this category.

Hope you enjoy!

Have you seen any of these movies or TV shows before?

If so, what did you think about them?  Which of these is your favorite?  Which is you least favorite?

I’d probably have to say The Mummy (1999) is my favorite on this list. I’ve seriously watched it more times than I can keep track of. (My protagonist Voi from The Elementalist: Rise of Hara was somewhat inspired by Evelyn Carnahan, the loveable-but-klutzy Egyptologist and librarian heroine from this movie, after all.  So there you go.)

I don’t really celebrate holidays much anymore, but for those who do, I hope you have a Happy Holiday(s)!

Airship Mania!

I was just browsing through videos on YouTube the other day, looking for anything related to dieselpunk, and I came across a few documentary videos about airships that are actually pretty darn cool.

One is a 3-part series covering a broad history of airships, beginning from the late 1800s up until today.  The other uses actual black and white footage along with the journal entries of Lady Grace Drummond Hay, who was a journalist and also the first woman to travel around the globe via air! I’ve found the latter video particularly interesting.  The narrator did a wonderful job, and the writings of Lady Drummond were delightful. (There’s even a side plot about a forbidden romance.)

Just a little something I wanted to share. 🙂 If you’re interested in airships, those are definitely worth checking out!


In other news, I’ve managed to get some editing done this weekend on a couple of scenes. Today, I’m reviewing a scene in which my main characters unexpectedly learn more about the history of their enemy through one of their team members, who admits he once was a member of a secret society…

…along with the leader of The Enemy.  Hmmmm…  (Yeah, he might want to explain that one, right?)

At this rate, sticking to weekends to get editing done, I could actually wrap these edits up within the next couple of months! Just got to make time for it. That’s the key. I’m also taking less side jobs, as a result. So far, I haven’t regretted doing so. I find I’m much happier working on the novel, actually.

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?

Vintage Military Videos: WWII, Secret Agents & the OSS

I don’t know why I’m just now discovering this, but I came across this website today called Real Military Videos and it’s got some really interesting content!  They have some vintage OSS instructional videos–very relevant to my fiction.

I know I can’t research every little detail in my (fantasy) novel and I don’t get a whole lot into the more involved aspects that comes with real espionage–tradecraft, namely; I’m taking a pretty fanciful approach, to be honest…but I really can’t believe I’d never thought to look up “OSS agent training” before.


Well, I’m sure to pick up some good stuff now, at least, and am likely to find some information that could help me take some of my ideas to the next level, you know?  It’s not too late, as I’m still in the first editing stages and haven’t made any extensive changes to the manuscript just yet, aside from my first chapter.  So long as I don’t spend ages dabbling in this stuff, heh (big temptation there).

What is the OSS?

Well, before there was the CIA there was something called the Office of Strategic Services, or the OSS.  It came about during WWII and didn’t last very long, from 1942 to 1945, and is known as “America’s first intelligence agency.”  (The CIA was subsequently formed in 1947.)  You can read more about it here, if you’re interested.


Here’s a link to the first of the instructional videos I was talking about before.  It’s pretty neat to be able to go back in time via cinematography!

Anyways, you never know who else might be interested in this stuff, so I thought I’d just share.

Weird Inspiration: LSD, the Psychedelic Experience & Remote Viewing

A little while ago I talked about “Synergy in Worldbuilding,” featuring a piece of art by Brian Exton which was, well, psychedelic.  At the end I promised that wouldn’t be the last time you saw “psychedelic weirdness from me” again.

Well…it’s baaaack!

LSD & the Psychedelic Experience: Get Inspired

Okay, I’m not suggesting you go and get high off shrooms or anything.  I sure wouldn’t.

However…haven’t you ever been fascinated by drugs (in this case, psychedelics) and the effects they can have on a person?  Haven’t you been just a little bit curious about what it’d be like to take those kinds of drugs?  I’m not sure why, but LSD is just one of those drugs for me.  I wanted to know what the big deal was, though without becoming a drug user myself.  What do people who’ve used the drug before have to say about it?  How do people function while under the influence of this psychedelic?

I wanted to know because I have a fictional substance in my story that I kind of needed a model for–one I wanted to have psychedelic-like effects on its users.  (Being that my WIP is heavily inspired by the 1920s and 30s, I figured that since Americans had The Prohibition and a crave for booze back then, I could create some fictional illegal substance which represented the underground, “punk” counterculture in my protagonist’s world.)

In order for me to be able to render scenes in which this substance was being used with some semblance of realism, I first needed to witness for myself how a real psychedelic drug affected people.  So I hopped on over to YouTube–because, you know, you can find just about anything on YouTube these days–and started doing some searches related to LSD and psychedelic experiences.

It’s crazy what you can find on YouTube.

Vintage Films on LSD

There are actually several vintage videos on YouTube that talk about how LSD was used in the latter half of the 20th century.  I was kind of surprised to find anything like this, to be honest.  You probably think I’m a little deranged by now, but here’s one that I was particularly inspired by (not sure of the year, but it was likely shot during the 60s):

At first I was like, “WTH…?”  But the more I listened to her (and I’ve listened to her many times now) I realized that this was a perfect way to describe certain situations in my story.  It was like a lightbulb went off in my head.

Here’s another one like that:

“I don’t know what psychotic means, really.”  Interesting. Also, I love the interviewer’s voice.  It’s got that kind of vintage noir/Philip Marlowe sound about it.  (It kind of makes me weak in the knees!)

Okay, so anyways…one last historic clip, in which British soldiers are being tested on with LSD:

Maybe I’m just strange, but I find this to be fascinating.  This is the kind of stuff fiction can thrive off of.  (Or maybe just the stuff I thrive off of…)

Just ask The Men Who Stare At Goats!

If you have not seen that movie…it’s freakin’ hilarious.  I love it because it doesn’t always make sense but still manages to thoroughly entertain.  To see Jeff Bridges as a flower-loving hippie was worth it alone.  Also, not only do they explore psychic abilities but also the use of LSD in conjunction with these abilities (and you can imagine how that turned out).

Right up my fiction’s alley.

Clairvoyance & the Psychic Spy

Have you ever heard of the Stargate Project?  (And this has nothing to do with the sci-fi series, though I love that, too.)  Apparently, the CIA released formerly classified information on experiments they’d been running for over twenty years, studying the applications of remote viewing in the intelligence community.

Pretty crazy, right?

So…What is “Remote Viewing?”

This is straight from an open source PDF guide from Remoteviewed.com, the UK site I linked to for the Stargate Project:

Remote viewing is the magical ability to gather information about a target, which can be anything at anytime and anywhere.

Remote viewing is a mental martial art that takes the raw nugget of human psychic ability and moulds it using a set of scientifically created stages. These stages act to filter the psychic data gathered during remote viewing sorting the ‘noise’ from the raw ‘real’ impressions.

Remote viewing isn’t how it sounds – like viewing a movie in your head, it’s a gradual opening of a window to the target, where each impression builds on the one before, slowly revealing the target piece by piece. This process involves more than vision, including; touching, tasting, smelling, hearing, or you can go into, above, or below the target, wherever you want or need to go to get the information.

This ability, it continues, is supposedly limitless.

Now, remote viewing is supposed to be something that anyone can learn, though in my story the ability is limited to a handful of rare individuals–an elite group which one of my main characters belongs to.  (It wouldn’t be cool if just anyone could do it.)

Is any of this stuff really true?  (I mean, this is some far-out shiznit, people.)  I’d like to think so, but at the same time I’m very skeptical of it.  What I do know is that it makes great material for writing fiction, and it’s tons of fun to write about!

What do You Think?

Have you ever tried LSD?  (I’d love to hear from you, if you have.  And I’m being totally serious.)  What about remote viewing: do you think it’s real or just a bunch of bunk?

Interwar Pilot Finds & the Psychology of Leather

I have to warn you, folks: Today I have no insights into the writing process, only interwar period finds and musings on the possible mentalities of some of the earliest airplane pilots in history.

So I was doing some random browsing on the internet the other day…

…as is my idle habit at times, and came across these photographs of a French leather flight helmet from the interwar period (1918-1939).  I think they’re simply beautiful:

French Airaile flight helmet from the Interwar period (1918-1939). Source: militaryheadgear.com


French Airaile flight helmet from the Interwar period (1918-1939). Source: militaryheadgear.com

Idk, there’s just something about leather, folks.

…Whaaa?  What is this?  Why are we talking about leather?

People, I love leather.  Let me tell you: I’ve got three pairs of leather boots, a sweet leather jacket, leather belts, several leather purses and handbags…and yes, even leather gloves to top off the collection.

Brazilian leather boots--bought during a ridiculous clearance, of course! (They look black here, but they're actually a dark green.)

Do I wear them all at once?  Of course not.  That would be silly.


(I don’t wear them often, though.  The boots, I mean.  I get the “are you a model?” question when I do, and sometimes with my jacket, as well.  And since I don’t model, it’s kind of annoying because people don’t believe me!  lol)

The Psychology of Leather

What is it about leather that makes certain folks go batty for it?

They say it’s a symbol of masculinity and power.  So what, does that make women who wear it power-hungry?


Maybe it’s just that being wrapped up tight in leather can make you feel all warm and comfortable and safe–invincible, even.

Maybe it’s a little of all these things, and something more.

For some, like me, you could say it’s almost a kind of fetish–not in the weird, kinky way that I’m sure Western society has ingrained into many minds.  (Okay, this is getting weird…)  Just a particularly strong liking for it.  Perhaps even in the mystical way that it is imbued with superpowers.  (Why else would a leather suit be associate with superhero status?)  And wouldn’t you know, it’s just one other thing that’s leaked over to my heroine and will pop up in my writing every now and then.

I can’t help it.  Leather–real, organic animal hide–is a beautiful material.  Plus, it just feels good.

It’s a quality thing.  Maybe it’s even a little bit primal.  It’s stylish, classic…and even when worn down by time, it remains timeless.

Maybe you understand; maybe you don’t.  (Though, I’m not-so-secretly hoping you do!)

I betchya Amelia Earhart understood it very well, as she was sometimes clad in it:

Amelia Earhart in Newfoundland (1928). From Topical Press Agency/Getty Images.

I could only imagine how good it must feel for a pilot to pull a nice snug, leather flying cap onto his/her head. *sighs* It makes me wonder how Amelia felt in her flying gear.

The Psychology of Individual Articles

Here’s what I think: Hats, leather or otherwise, can make you feel safe; so can a leather jacket.  The jacket can also give you a sense of assuredness, that things will turn out all right.  Gloves (I’m guessing Amelia wore some while flying) are kind of an official statement; they say, “I’m ready to take on this mission put before me.”

And the boots…well, those just finish it all off, don’t they?  A good tug on those laces and you’re set to go.  If anything is a sign of power, a message that “I can do anything,” it’s a good pair of knee-high leather boots.  (Thigh-high?  Well, there’s a difference between “check me out” and “pick me up.”  The difference is but inches.)

Of course, there’s a practical side to all that gear: It protected pilots who flew in open cockpits from brisk winds.  Even so, leather on its own is simply amazing.

Enough about leather!  What about flying?

Well, what about it?  Closest I’ve been to planes are airliners, and I obviously didn’t get to play pilot.  And I won’t be hopping into the cockpit of a biplane any time soon.  In the meantime, I will be checking out this nifty little flight simulator (probably after I graduate and have some more time to get lost in it).  See how that goes.

This game has been around for a while now, but that won’t keep me from trying it.  Here’s the blurb about it off Microsoft’s website:

The year is 1937. The United States has shattered under the combined weight of the Great Depression, regional Prohibition and mounting isolationism. The transcontinental railroad and the budding highway system have become useless as they now cross hostile borders. Commerce and trade leave the ground as air travel now becomes a vital lifeline connecting allied countries — and a national obsession — while daring air pirates and valiant air militias battle for control of the skies. Giant zeppelins crisscross the skies, carrying both passengers and cargo. It is a time of gunship diplomacy and airship piracy. It is the age of the fighter pilot and a time of daredevil adventure and sinister intrigue. It is the world of Crimson Skies…

I mean, why wouldn’t you want to play something like that?

The game’s plane models are more advanced than I was looking for, but oh well.  Still looks like fun.  Too bad this isn’t on the Xbox 360, as that’s how I like to roll…

Oh, snap–they’ve got it on the regular ol’ Xbox!  It’s a date.

Okay, so before I go…there’s actually one other little reason why I think leather is amazing:

Introducing U.S. Air Mail pilot William C. “Wild Bill” Hopson--striking a cocky pose before a flight from Omaha to Chicago in 1921. Source: Amazons link to Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum: An Autobiography.

Bottom line: There is nothing like a man in a suit.

Note to self: one day I’ve got to base a character off that man…

(Okay, you know how they say not to judge a book by its cover?   Well, I confess: I am 100% guilty of doing this.  The first time I encountered “Wild Bill” was in Mavericks of the Sky: The First Daring Pilots of the U.S. Air Mail, and I probably picked up the book because he was smack-dab on the cover–entirely pwning the cover, to be sure.  But really, I promise: It was a wonderful book!  Lots of insights into the dangers that pioneer pilots faced when scouting out the first airmail routes.  Those folks were crazy-brave.)

So, I guess the real question is: Does anyone else have an insatiable craving for leather, or am I just weird?

Or maybe it isn’t leather for you.  Maybe it’s fluffy pink things.  Or white tennis shoes you can’t stand to get dirty.  Or…maybe you’re just normal.  That’s cool, too.

I guess. 😛

Frederick M. Trapnell: The Test Pilot’s Test Pilot

USS Akron releases its N2Y-1 aircraft while in flight. Source: http://www.history.navy.mil.


The heroine in my WIP becomes a test pilot, of sorts, though in her world aeroplanes aren’t quite as developed or widely used as ours were in the 1930s.  Still, I thought this was a fascinating account of a real-life test pilot who lived during the era I draw my inspiration from.  To be able to see his log books and photographs of the kind of test runs he went on…pretty invaluable stuff.  (I get all giddy inside just looking at it.  Takes me to a different time, you know?)

On Doing Research

I’m not really a history buff or especially knowledgeable about aircraft, but I do find it fascinating to read about them every now and then.  Got some books on airships written as early as 1942, and one on planes originally written in 1915!

  • The Story of the Airship – Hugh Allen, 1942 (has pictures!)
  • Military Aircraft in World War 1 – Frederick A. Talbot, 2008; originally published in 1915 as Aeroplanes and Dirigibles of War (kind of boring, actually, but still has a few interesting things in it)
  • The Giant Airships – Douglas Botting, 1981 (it’s got pictures and colored artwork!)

Even with these references, I still like to “modify” things to suit my storyworld, and maybe I’ll get some stuff wrong.  (Someone is bound to point it out if/when I do.)  But I am writing fantasy, for heaven’s sake, not historical fiction (or even alternate history, for that matter).  While I hope to establish some verisimilitude, I do like to play around and so I mostly use this stuff as a guide.

How About You?

Do you ever do research for your novels?  How much, or how little, do you find yourself doing (if you do)?  Is it something you ever get concerned with, or do you pretty much just like to “wing it?”