Friday, June 28, 2019

Opposites Inside Me

Sacchi Green

We occasionally discuss how we put something of ourselves into our writing, whether consciously or not. But I think most of us, if not all, are at least as apt to create characters who are very different from us, even the opposites of who we are, or, more to the point, who we feel that we are. 

Readers sometimes like the comfort of recognizing themselves in fiction, but they also lust for the different, the exciting, immersion in the lives of characters who are in many ways the opposites they wish they could be. We writers are no different, except that we get to exert some degree of control over our fiction. Our readers, some of them, at least, enjoy entering the fictitious lives of a wide variety of characters, and for writers, creating those characters, giving them distinctive voices and adventures, is even more intimate than reading about them. Come to think of it, though, maybe that’s not true. If we do our work well enough we can draw the reader as deeply into our stories as we have become, or even more so, since they see the finished product and not the ups and downs and frustrations of its creation.

“Opposite” isn’t always a precise term, though. People opposite to each other in some ways may not be all that different in others.  I was immersed in reading when I was a kid, enjoying worlds far different from my day to day boring normality, from the Victorian England of Sherlock Holmes to the India of Kipling’s Jungle Book to distant planets when I got seriously into science fiction. The fact that all those places and characters were in most ways the opposites of my mundane life and self was the greatest attraction. Eventually I got into the romance genre, too, with characters who seemed even more opposite to my less-than-attractive teen-age self, which made their allure all the more powerful.  

All that time, through childhood and college and into inescapable adulthood, I intended to be a writer myself. It took a lot longer than I’d expected, and by the time I got around to actually focus on writing I’d already given up on associated dreams like traveling around the world and seeing all those far-away places I’d loved to read about. I did manage some travel, but came to realize that time had made the places I’d dreamed about even farther away than mere distance could.

But back to the theme of opposites. The first complete story I ever wrote was fanfiction based on a series of graphic novels, Elfquest, about elves who rode wolves and were part wolves themselves. About as opposite to myself as anything could be, but they were my younger son’s favorites, and had grabbed my attention. The first stories I actually had published were fantasies about strong women with paranormal powers, clearly the kind of opposites I would have liked to be. Writing erotica, when I got to that, turned out to be an excellent way to put oneself deeply into the story on one level, while working through characters quite different from one’s usual self.  A writer friend used to claim that I must have demons in my head that wrote their stories through me. Opposites inside me. I liked that. Another recently asked how I came to write so many convincing stories about lesbian cowgirls, when I’m a stolid New Englander. So many? Just those two…no, three or four…wait, there was that one, too…just five. Unless you count the three about a New England horse trainer who specializes in big draft horses. I was horse crazy as a kid, but mostly just in my reading. And I did used to read many Zane Grey books and other westerns, along with just about everything else in our small-town library. But the real reason, I think, is that the cowboy mystique is an opposite that attracts me so much that I try to enter into it in my writing. Most of my writing, in fact, is based on types of characters with lives that are very much opposites to the life I’ve actually lived. Eight stories, for instance, have been about women in the military in wartime, from the Civil War to WWI and WWII and Vietnam and recent Mideast conflicts. I’m kind of a history buff, too, and enjoy the required research, but it’s really the attraction of characters I wish I were like, but can’t be. The closest I’ve come to any war-connected action is getting deliberately arrested at a mass sit-in at an air force base. There’s been some variety, of course—a rock-climbing character, a Chinese pirate in the approach to WWII—not exactly military, but close. And Olympic figure skaters, and a couple of sculptors, and…and…

My point, if I have one, is that opposites can have a strong attraction for readers, and at least as strong an attraction for writers, which works out well, right? And when you take into account the kinkier flavors of erotica, there’s the factor of enjoying the intensity of risk without any actual risk, but that’s a whole other topic, so nevermind. I’m late already, but it’s still Wednesday the 27th on the West Coast, right? But not, I fear, on the opposite side of the world.    




  1. Sacchi, I've often wondered how you manage to write military women with such confidence. I was pretty sure you'd never been in the Armed Services.

    Cowboys -- or cowgirls -- is maybe easier because there's a good deal of popular mythology about them. But female soldiers are practically invisible, at least until you bring them into the light.

  2. Lisabet, there are first-person accounts of military women out there if you look for them. Not necessarily for the Civil War, although there are records of more than 200 women passing as men in that war, and of some who kept on living as men whose gender was never discovered until they died many years later. There were probably many more that were never revealed. In any case my characters from that era appear somewhat later, passing as men out west but remembering the war and still affected by it.

    For WWI I stuck to the well-documented women serving as ambulance drivers in France, and that sort of thing, not, perhaps, actually in the military, but equally affected by the traumas of that war. From WWII there are numerous memoirs and biographies of women who served, especially those who became pilots for the UK, the USA, and Russia. The Russians were the only ones who served officially in battle, well-publicized as the "Night Witches" (Nachthexen)they were called by the Germans being bombed at night by them. My favorite of the books about them is "A Dance with Death,' a collection of very detailed memoirs of those women, gathered by author and US pilot Anne Noggle at several reunions the Russian women pilots held in later years. There were also noted women sharpshooters serving for Russia in in battles like the Siege of Stalingrad, although I haven’t seen any first-person accounts. For the Vietnam conflict there are several memoirs and collections of memoirs by women who served as nurses, support staff, etc., some of them written by people as a kind of therapy for coping with their traumatic memories. And for the seemingly never-ending conflicts in the Middle East, there are numerous first-person accounts by women. The section of my paranormal novel set in Kurdistan was inspired by journalists accounts and interviews with women forming their own squads within the Kurdish Peshmerga forces, and I was lucky enough to see a documentary by a filmmaker who was imbedded in one of these groups and traveled with them for some time, bonding with them to a great extent. That film was shown for a limited time in our Amherst cinema, and the filmmaker came with it.

  3. Continuing! Not room in the previous comment.

    My stories don’t include much in the way of actual battles, just references to memories, but in one of my anthologies, Thunder of War, Lightning of Desire (Lethe Press), some of the contributors did include some battlefield scenes, like the sharpshooters in the Siege of Leningrad. Some of these details I already knew, and I was able to track down and confirm enough of all the historical references the writers made to be confident of them. That book, sadly, has never done well—readers of lesbian erotica don’t care much for war stories, and several of my best usual contributors wouldn’t go anywhere near such a theme. Just the same, there’s some magnificent writing in that book, and excellent research behind it.

    I never served in any military, but I lived through several wars. Maybe the fact that my mother followed my father from post to post during WWII, on trains and buses, with me as baby over one shoulder and her supply of diapers, food, etc. in a set of bicycle saddlebags over the other, inoculated me with an interest in the military life. I don’t really remember that time, but I’ve heard stories over and over, about sharing the graham crackers she’d brought for me with soldiers on the train where there was no other food, about passing me from lap to lap when six people, soldiers included, had to share a four person train seat and everyone took a turn at standing. The main role I played was just existing, since my father was all packed to go to Pacific theater late in the war, but at the last minute the truce in Europe was signed, not as many troops were needed, and he had enough points with a wife and baby to be dropped from the departure list. He was in the Army Air Corps, and waned to be a pilot, but damage from an ear infection in his teens disqualified him for that, so he became an instructor in meteorology teaching pilots what they needed to know while in the air.

    Whew! Sorry for such a long, meandering post.

  4. This is a fascinating footnote to your stories, Sacchi. I'm often amazed at the number of women who have been involved in active combat in every human war, including Boudicca's amazing revolt against the Romans occupying Britannia in about 60 AD. Their lives intrigue me too, but unfortunately, warriors rarely seem to be heroes in real life. (Support staff, especially medical support staff, are in a different role.) One reason I miss Xena the Warrior Princess on TV is because of the moral dilemmas that constantly arise, e.g. is it ever ethical to destroy a whole village because it contains some of your enemies? Is torture ever justified, considering that it doesn't yield trustworthy information? Should child soldiers always be spared, even when they carry and use deadly weapons? (Actually, though, watching Lucy Lawless was at least half the appeal of Xena.)

  5. I just posted a free story over on my blog, yet another with connections to women in the military, in this case an army nurse circulated back to Walter Reed Hospital in DC from Vietnam, and taking a break to let off steam (and frustration and PTSD) in Greenwich Village, NYC, on the very night of the great Stonewall uprising.


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