The tickle of curiosity. The gasp of discovery. Fingers running across a keyboard

Sunday, December 21, 2014

The Home Front: Military Family Life - Info for Writers with Marliss Melton

I'm so pleased to introduce Marliss Melton today. I really enjoy Marliss's writing, and I believe I've read all of her work. Fast pace, intelligent, well-researched; strong, capable, caring heroes and heroines makes her my kind of writer.

Not only does Marliss do on-going research for her books, but she has her writing vetted by a SEAL to make sure she gets both the dynamic action and the personalities right. And she pulls from her own life story. 









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Fiona - 
Marliss, can you share a little of your military history?

Marliss - 
As the daughter of a foreign service officer, my many siblings and I grew up in mainly third-world countries, settings that later helped to inform my stories. 

My travels gave me a facility for language, and I have taught Spanish, ESL, and linguistics at my alma mater, The College of William and Mary. I married an Army officer right out of college, but he died eight years
into our marriage, leaving me with two sons. 

Love brought a Navy man into my life, along with four more children! I’d like to think this makes me an expert at parenting. More likely, it has enriched my understanding of family dynamics, something that also shows up in my books. 

My membership in the military community has left me with an understanding of military customs, jargon, and protocol and a huge appreciation for the bond of brotherhood that forges warriors together. 

I have an enormous appreciation for our special operators and the risks they take to protect American lives. My desire to produce realistic fiction has led me to seek out the expert advice of a Navy SEAL commander, Mark Divine, who answers my many questions and edits my action scenes for authenticity. 

As a military spouse, I have endured long separations and experienced the fear that the families of today’s military members feel. 

I’m also an avid animal lover, which causes me to bring dogs, especially, into my stories. LOOK AGAIN, A Novella, has raised thousands of dollars for Hero Dogs, Inc., which trains service dogs for injured U.S. veterans. All in all, my background has given me all the right tools to create military romantic suspense that is both realistic and touching.

Fiona - 
When you were growing up in a military family - were you living on bases?

Marliss -
I've lived in both on-base and off-base housing. In Laos, Thailand, and France, we lived in the capital cities among the locals.

The military base I lived in was here in the USA, in Virginia.

Plus, as an Army officer's wife, I lived at Fort Dix, New Jersey for three years.

Fiona - 
When you were living locally, were you attending school on base?

Marliss-
No, I never attended any base schools. I attended the American School of Paris and the International School of Bangkok, in Thailand.

I could tell you in Thai what colors to wear on what days of the week! (That's been terribly helpful as you can imagine).

We spent a lot of time learning local customs and the language. As a result, I never learned all the U.S. states or their capitals. I barely knew any US history by the time I returned to the states for 6th grade.

Fiona - 
I'm wondering about "kid culture" on bases did you participate? Or did your living off base mean that you were more imbued with non-military friends and doings.

From 6th grade through high school, I lived on a base, and there was definitely a kid culture there. None of my friends or I knew stuff that American kids knew. Who were the BeeGees? What clothes were cool to wear? We had no idea, and we didn't really care. Traveling the world had opened our minds to larger issues and more important things about humanity.

Some of us had fathers who had seen and done some gruesome stuff. One of my father's friends committed suicide on Christmas morning. We were aware of the sacrifices and struggles involved in upholding US interests overseas.

A lot of my friends and many of my siblings went on to serve our country in various ways. I really can't say what my sisters do for a living, but I'm doing my part, too, raising awareness of the lifestyle of our military men and women--especially Navy SEALs so that readers have a better appreciation for what these operators endure to keep us all safe.

Fiona - 
Let's talk about that for a moment. What did the parents say to their children about what their military parent did for a living? What did people say to each other? Was this subject openly discussed? Just a known part of life?

Marliss - 
In the segment of the military in which I grew up, the parents were not at liberty to discuss their missions. We kids had to read between the lines, taking note of current world events and guessing how our parents played a part.

Of course, the adults knew what was going on.

Fiona - 
How did that feel to you, reading between the lines? Do children discuss their concerns with one another? Or is it considered the norm? For example, my kids don't sit around talking about what either my husband or I do for a living.

Marliss - 
The kids would certainly discuss things and speculate. Many of them had fathers who would take off for years at a time. This made kids more aware than your average American teen. So many have gone on to serve their country in the armed services, and some in humanitarian ways. It was normal to be aware and to ask yourself "How can I do my part when I grow up?"

Fiona -
What kinds of systems are in place to help the families stay whole?

Marliss - 
I don't think there were any systems in place to help families at that time, but that has certainly changed in the past two decades. 

The military has services in place to help families cope with hardship and to get psychological help and find the support groups they need. People are much more open in confessing that they have trouble coping. Back when I was younger, that wasn't the case. Suicide and alcohol were very prevalent, even among the children of servicemen/women.

Fiona - 

When a service member passes away, a family is living on base, what happens to their living arrangements? Can they stay there for awhile with the friends and supports, or is it necessary for a new widow to move quickly?

Mariss - 
They are not hustled out of their home. I am not positive of the time they may stay but I believe it is long enough to allow children to complete a school year. Families of deceased veterans continue to receive benefits until the spouse either remarries or the children are considered adults. The military takes care of its own.

Fiona -
That's so good to know.

Marliss - 
I will say, on the previous subject, that it is harder for Navy SEALs to admit that they are having problems. Mental strength is of paramount importance to them, so they don't want to admit that they might be cracking. As a result, there is some drug use with a small segment of special operators, but by and large, they have taught themselves to think positively, to reframe negative aspects of their lives in order to thrive even in a hostile environment.

When you read the bios of Navy SEALs, you can see a common thread: They are uniquely capable individuals with an almost superhuman capacity to overcome hardship.

Fiona -
When you are reading books/watching TV and films that include service families. Do you find some common mistakes? Common prejudices (both good and bad) that you disagree with?

I ask this because the background and personalities that come to life in your writing are so real, and I feel I am learning about the culture, which fascinates me.

Marliss -
Oh, totally! I started watching a recent Navy SEALs movie, and it was all wrong! The TV portrays SEALs like they are regular military people, with strict protocol and procedures. "Yes, sir," "No, sir," etc. It's not really like that at all. With the SEALs, even the lowliest enlisted man is treated as someone with something important to contribute. They are much more slack on the "sirs," and the difference between officers and enlisted is minimal.

What the SEALs and all military units have in common is the bond of brotherhood that is prevalent with all of them. It is especially powerful among the Teams because of the extreme hardships that these men have faced together. They have all been driven to extremes that would break most men and the way they survived was by pulling together. Once a Team man, always a Team man. They are bonded through the unique experience of BUD/S (Basic underwater demolition training), where perhaps 16 men will graduate from the original 212 that enrolled.

Fiona -
What personality traits do you frequently see in the wives of SEALS - that must be a special brand of woman both to catch his interested and to be able to deal with the lifestyle. What about the children? Do you see a pattern of traits in them? Their fathers are the best of the best and always in danger.

Marliss - 
I haven't gotten to know the children of any Navy SEALs, but I've met and exchanged emails with some of the wives. As you would expect, SEALs have extremely high standards, especially SEAL officers. Their wives are lovely, but they are also extremely smart and just as driven as their husbands. They have a "can-do" attitude that is critical if the marriage is going to survive. They have to have TRUST in their husband's skills, and FAITH that their men are doing something critical to the country. They have to be willing to accept their husbands' possible demise by reminding themselves that their man died doing what he loved--that he would not have wanted to die any other way. These women are STRONG.

SEALs make great fathers. When they are home, they devote themselves to family life. 
I think most SEALs who are fathers are motivated to make the world a better place for their children.

Fiona - 
If a writer is working on an MS that includes SEALs do you have any resources you could suggest to help them get their writing right?





Marliss-
I'd recommend: 
LONE SURVIVOR, by Marcus Luttrelle 
SERVICE, also by Marcus.  
THE HEART AND THE FIST by Eric Greitens 
FEARLESS by Eric Blehm 
NAVY SEAL DOGs by Mike Ritland 
THE INTUITIVE WARRIOR by Michael Jaco. 

I trust you would find them as stimulating and inspiring as I do!

Fiona - 
I have one more military life question for you, but before we get there, can you tell me about your favorite scar or harrowing story?

Marliss - 
This prompt gives me serious pause. I have several scars and several harrowing stories to tell, but none of them would leave a reader feeling good. I’m still in my forties, but I’ve hit a lot of bumps along the way, and readers of romance prefer to read stories with happy endings. But often tragedy ultimately results in happiness, so I will share the story of my mastectomy scars. Last winter, I was diagnosed with an early stage of breast cancer. I had a lumpectomy, but the margins weren’t satisfactory, so I had a another, and that’s when they found even more cancer. Rather than risk dying in ten years, I opted to have my breasts removed. Turns out that was a good decision as the lab found still more cancer in tissue that was taken away. Losing my breasts caused losses in other areas. But the entire experience helped me to appreciate what so many women have to endure. I’ve gained empathy and wisdom and connected with so many fabulous ladies because of the experience. When something good comes out of something bad, the human spirit triumphs. I can say I’m proud of those scars!

Fiona - 
Thank you so much for sharing such a personal story. My very best wishes for your health.

Let's talk about Christmas and the military - many trees are missing a mom or dad lounging nearby. Many kids are sitting on Santa's lap asking that their parent come home safely as their most wished for gift. If our writers have a military family's Christmas in their plotline - what should they know from your life experience? 

wikipedia OPERATION CHRISTMAS FOR FAMILIES



Marliss -
Christmas can be an especially tough time for military families. It's just not the same when a family member is away on Christmas Day. Military families have learned to be flexible--sometimes they celebrate Christmas early...sometimes they delay. They know that Christmas is more "real" when everyone is there. 

Wikipedia Army Raider Brigade at Christmas


My advice to writers would be to go ahead and depict a Christmas where Dad or Mom is missing. Reach into your readers' hearts and strum a cord that will tune them in to the sacrifices so many service people are enduring. And while you're at it, do something special for a military member this year. I'm going to donate a box of books to the local Army base library who will ship them to service people overseas. Send cards. Donate online--not just at Christmas but all throughout the year. As long as you are conscious of and grateful for the scary, lonely sacrifices being made on your behalf, you can help to mitigate them. Merry Christmas and God bless us, everyone.



Fiona - 
Thank you so much for being here today, Marliss.

To you and my readers,
may you and your loved ones be safe, warm, cared for, and appreciated - now and all year long. 

My special gratitude for those in our military, first responders, nurses and doctors whose service to us keeps them in the trenches and away from their families.

I am opening up the comments section on this post to words of encouragement and good cheer if you would like to send out a greeting to our military and first responders and their families. 

Many ThrillWriting fans serve our nation and communities.
(I'll be moderating as quickly as I can.)

Joy!