Tuesday, February 21, 2017

The Effects of Being a Military Brat on Writing, by Steve Stroble

Please welcome Steve Stroble, author of numerous dystopian, sci-fi, adventure, and short stories anthologies.  I met Steve on the Books by Brats group at Facebook, run by fellow author Patty Tracy Perrin.  I have no doubt my own upbringing in the military has impacted my writing, as I lived in Europe until I was almost 6, surrounded by castles and medieval towns, and spent later years on the East Coast, visiting numerous historical sites.

Today, Steve writes about his own experiences and how they've impacted his writing.

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Military brats tend to be…well, different. They are a subset of children who grow up in a rootless existence, such as those whose parent or parents labor in the construction or agricultural industries, in which one often must move to where work is available; corporations or government, in which promotions often require moving elsewhere; the traveling sales field; and the previously mentioned military, personnel who are stationed all around the globe.
Such rootless childhoods have produced many artists, actors, musicians, photographers, and writers. Maybe that happens because such children often use imaginations to create their own worlds or universes, different from their childhoods of packing up and saying “goodbye,” moving to a strange place, making new friends, saying “goodbye” to them, and moving again, over and over and over.

Parents’ careers and resulting lifestyles leave lasting imprints on their children.  Especially those in the military. Our dad came of age when every American was expected to battle an Axis of German National Socialism (Nazism), Italian Fascism, and Japanese Imperialism that sought to rule Earth. After flying as a navigator in bombers during World War II, he was transferred into the US Air Force Reserve. When North Korean and Chinese soldiers tried to conquer South Korea, Dad was recalled to active duty to fly bombing and attack missions over Korea. During that time, I was born in Mom’s hometown of Watertown, South Dakota.

Mom’s introduction to military life as a wife waiting, praying, and wondering at home set the stage for what was to come during the next 3 decades when Dad decided to remain on active duty for the USAF.  Because her husband was a navigator, he was away a lot flying in whatever and wherever the USAF told him to.  Sometimes, the 2 or 3-day flights stretched into TDYs (temporary duties), longer periods of him being assigned elsewhere. A military spouse has to have a strong soul to endure. Maybe that’s why strong female characters show up in my stories.

After the Korean War, Dad was transferred to South Carolina, then West Germany, where my brother and sister were born. Then it was 3 years in Ohio, 3 years in Southern California, 4 years in Alabama (where another brother was born), 2 years in the Philippines, and 2 final years in Northern California before he retired. Looking back now, I realize how being a military brat connected me to history that had occurred in some of those places, such as legends told to me about Abraham Lincoln and Johnny Appleseed when we lived in Ohio. Such tales contributed to my love of history, and eventual writing of historical fiction.

In Southern California, Dad worked as a USAF liaison to the aerospace industry during the space race to put an astronaut on the moon. He would bring home black and white photos of aircraft used during preliminary testing to simulate what astronauts would encounter in outer space, such as the X-15. One of his Christmas presents to me was a colorful map of our solar system’s sun and nine planets (this was long before some of the lesser, most distant ones were called into question). He also favored taking the family to double features at the drive-in when at least one of the movies was a science fiction thriller about human beings meeting strange aliens from some distant planet. All of that fed an imagination that I have tapped for several science fiction and dystopian novels and short stories.

We lived in Alabama from 1964 to 1968. To try and understand the social upheaval unfolding all around us, I tried to research about the Ku Klux Klan and learned that the three main groups it had targeted were blacks, Jews, and Catholics. “Alabama is 2% Catholic and Montgomery, where we live, is 1% Catholic,” Dad informed us. His and my mother’s siding with integration despite the resulting tensions taught us kids what it meant to take a stand. No wonder some of the characters in my stories end up having to do the same, even if it means dying as a result.

In the Philippines, we met what have to be some of the happiest people on Earth. With only a small middle class and even smaller upper class, about 80% of the Filipino people during the 1960s were classified as what Americans consider “poor.”  But meeting and talking to them and getting to know some of them left me wondering how they could be so content despite their lack of money and material possessions.  That experience has driven me to write stories that are character driven instead of plot driven. While in the Philippines, our parents took us kids on short trips to visit other countries, such as Japan and Taiwan. Because I was a senior in high school  transitioning to another phase of life, they also took just me along to visit Hong Kong, Thailand, and India. Experiencing such places firsthand left indelible impressions still used when trying to write about such foreign nations.

Serving in the military for 29 years gave my dad a lot of stories, which he loved to tell his children. One of them: “One time on a flight, the navigator told the pilot that if he continued on his present course, the plane would crash into the side of a mountain. The pilot ignored the navigator. So the navigator had the captain sign his log book’s entry that he had permission to bail out of the plane by using his parachute.”  (Long pause.)  

“The navigator bailed out and the plane crashed into the mountain and the rest of the crew were all killed. The navigator survived.”

Another one: “One time we were flying out of Alaska and the compass on our plane was spinning like crazy because of the magnetic field from the North Pole. I wasn’t sure which direction our plane was headed because the clouds were blocking out the sun. You can always use the sun during the day and stars at night to help figure out where you are and where you are heading, if you can see them. Then, all of a sudden, the sun’s rays broke through the clouds. I got on the radio and told the pilot, ‘turn this plane around. We’re headed straight towards Russia!'” (Long pause)

“If the sun hadn’t come out when it did, the Russians would have either shot us down and killed all of us who were on that plane or we would have been forced to land in Russia and probably ended up in some prisoner camp in Siberia and none of you kids would ever have been born because this all happened before I met your mother.”

Such storytelling, passed down from military career father to military brat, birthed in me a desire to write stories. But most of all, being a military brat teaches one the following: The world owes you nothing If you are going to survive, you need to learn to adapt Life is one long compromise because you don’t always get what you want, such as growing up in one place If this is Tuesday, then it must be…(fill in the blanks: any one of the 50 states of America or some foreign country that I’ve never even heard of or read about)  

Others have written in greater detail about the life of military families, books, both fiction and nonfiction.  Here are a couple of them you may want to read:

  • Eat, Drink & Be Mary: A Glimpse Into a Life Well Lived  by Michelle Mras and Tony Mras
  • MacArthur’s Children by Dary Matera
Both books are available from Amazon. Happy reading.

About Steve:

Steve Stroble writes novels, novellas, and his favorite, short stories. "I know I have a lot of nerve asking you to spend time with my imaginary characters instead of with your family, friends, neighbors, even acquaintances or strangers, because truth and real people are stranger than fiction," he says. "But to keep your investment of time to a minimum, you can read some of my short stories. A sample of them is available by visiting his blog, https://shortstorystop.wordpress.com/."



COMING UP:
  • February 26: I'll be reading on the Vehicle of Expression, part of the Art Shanty Project
  • February 25, 2017: I will co-host Food Freedom on AM 950 with Laura Hedlund and Karen Olson Johnson.  Guests: Michael Agnew, craft beer expert and Ross Fishman on Russian literature.  We'll taste Russian beer: listen to the whole program from last month.

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If you liked this article, you might also like
Tempo Rubato by Brendan Carroll
Talking with a Time Travel Trio
Beethoven in Love by Howard Jay Smith
or other posts under the AUTHOR INTERVIEWS label

 

2 comments:

  1. I agree with you and how creative people are often from the same backgrounds as we share. Entertaining oneself opens up the imagination and coping with new and strange places, and often the lack of any friends - moved too often to make many - might well be the reason. Great piece, thanks.

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    1. Thanks for stopping by, Jane! Yes, these are excellent points that the wide variety of experiences, new places, new people, along with so often being alone, are great sources of creativity and imagination.

      I wonder if military kids also spend more time with books--in those first days and weeks of being in a new place and not knowing anyone. I know I did.

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