Condense Your Life

When the Cav deployed the first time to Iraq, I remember the discussion. Each soldier would share a 36 by 45 trunk (we call them TAT boxes) with another soldier. That was all the personal gear you were allowed to bring to the war. Your two bags were reserved for gear. NBC gear, uniforms and PTs. If you were carrying a book, it was on your person because space was limited.

 

As we’ve gotten the nack of deploying down, so to has the amount of gear soldiers take with them. But I’m wondering: could you collapse your entire life down to 2 boxes, a duffle bag and a ruck sack? Looking at my entire life for the last year, it fits into those boxes. And half of one box is all my historical documents from being the XO. Even my bags are mostly empty, in that I’m putting all my gear into one so I’ve got room to offload the rest of my gear so I don’t have to wear it on the plane home.

 

The most of what I’m taking home with me? Books, of course. My laptop stays with me in my assault pack, as does a broken down hygiene bag. But all in all, I’m not carrying home that much stuff. The things that are going in the connex are things I can live without.

 

So when I get home, I’ll be able to look at everything around me and ruthlessly throw things away. Its too much stuff. Too much clutter taking up space. Too many toys, too many orphaned keys or abandoned pens.  This is the best time to clean house and start over.
Organizers say that if you haven’t used it in a year, you probably don’t need it. While I don’t agree with that entirely, in my case, I do think that if I haven’t missed it, I’ll probably be able to throw it out.

 

So what’s in your life that you can downsize or even get rid of? What can you change that will give you more time, more space, less to do? Because if I can essentially live out of a duffle bag, I bet you can cut some stuff from your life.

 

Try it. See what you come up with. You might surprise yourself.

Expectations: Real Life and Writing

Jane L. from Dear Author and Sarah Frantz were talking yesterday on Twitter about expectations. Jane tweeted that people identified her as Asian as soon as she walked into a room, whereas she identifies more with being white. Sarah commented that Suzanne Brockmann’s books were often praised for her portrayal of a gay man’s take on the world but missed the mark completely on race.

 

Those comments really hit me hard because you are defined by expectations of what you appear to be. You are judged and dismissed or accepted within the first few moments of meeting someone. The old saying you never get a second chance to make a first impression is dead on.

 

So what does this have to do with writing or the army? Well, you have to put your best foot forward. A female in the army who cakes on makeup is going to be dismissed by the combat arms soldiers around her, regardless of her proficiency or skill set. Body language experts tell us that a woman who dresses provocatively will be unable to influence the men around her because they’ll be seeing her as a trashy woman instead of a woman who means business. While it’s hard for a soldier to dress provocatively, it’s possible to still draw attention to yourself rather than your skills as a soldier.

 

The same thing holds for writers. Agent Sarah Megibow from the Nelson Literary agency says first thing she does when thinking about requesting a manuscript is Google the author. If there are naked photos of you from spring break, she’s going to think twice about requesting. Your online presence says much about you as a writer and as a potential client. Once tweeted, you can never take it back, so think clearly before hitting send.

 

The army has a saying that when the central promotion boards meet, they’re looking for the total soldier. No longer is your ability to run 4 miles in under 35 minutes the requirement for promotion but don’t think for a second that you can be a deuce and a half and make the cut. Commanders are known for Googling officers that are applying for positions and yes, that means checking your Facebook page.

 

Everything out there adds up to the total package and it only takes one thing to turn someone off forever. A lady forever left the Austin RWA meetings because she was offended by the talk I gave about being a soldier in the army. I really didn’t see anything offensive about it, but then again, I’ll never know. So you can’t be 100% sure what will offend and what won’t but try to see something from the outside looking in. If you can do that, you’ll succeed in creating a professional appearance and managing what people see of you.

 

Some things you can’t change. You can’t change what you look like if you’re Asian or African American or even female. People will judge, often unfairly based on appearance. On the flip side of that, I won’t change the fact that I’m a soldier and proud of what my fellow soldiers have done. I guarantee people will be and have been offended by this blog. I can’t change that or rather, I won’t, because this is who I am.

 

But I can work my tail off to make sure that every post I publish wouldn’t be difficult for me to explain should my brigade commander look at it. I have friends who’ve mentioned maybe you should take that down after a rant and I’ve listened, because they’re the outside looking in. Even though my public persona is a writer, I’m also an army officer and there are things I am not allowed to say. I speak for myself, not the army. I am not going to comment on official policy as established by law or my commander in chief.  But I can tell you what being in Iraq is like for me. I can tell you what its like to work for a captain I don’t respect. I can tell you my struggles to be a better leader and the second and third order effects of failing to make a decision. And I can tell you what it feels like to stand on an airstrip and salute a flag draped coffin.

 

All these things, I believe are appropriate for me to share, as an officer and a writer and mom. I won’t post pictures of my kids online, because I’m freaked out about child exploitation. But I’ll tell you my daughter’s eyes were wide and shocked when we walked up onto the porch of my mom’s house.

 

So manage the things you put out in public. As a writer, figure out what sets you off from the crowd and run with it but that thing is a keg stand, you might want to reconsider. People have expectations of you as a writer.

 

Try to manage those expectations.

Falling in Love Again or Trying Something New?

So it would kind of funny if as a writer, I didn’t love books. But I really love them. I love the feel of a fresh spine beneath my fingers, the smooth edge of a cover not yet opened. I love the potential of the story and the promise held between those covers. There are small collections of books over here, scattered around the FOB and I’m drawn to them every time, just to see if it was something I’d read or would enjoy reading.

 

I have a small confession, however.

 

Brace yourself.

 

I’m an incredibly picky reader but I’m a romance writer, who when she started writing romance, did not read romance.

 

Huh?

 

 When I started writing, I knew it was going to be romance. But when I started writing, the only romance I’d read in years was Nora Roberts and Suzanne Brockmann. I didn’t have a clue what was out there market wise. My mentor Candace Irvin told me to get my ass to the book store and start looking for romance novels that were something like what I’d written. I didn’t find it (though I discovered I love romantic suspense) and I only recently discovered why, because of Roxanne St. Claire’s question as to whether War’s Darkest Fear was romantic suspense or straight romance. It’s straight romance, which means that as I was pitching it as military romance, agents were automatically thinking suspense, but I digress.

 

When I was a teenager, I discovered Danielle Steel, through my grandmother. I remember reading Zoya and Star and going to the library to read everything she’d written. I moved on to Jackie Collins, who my mother quickly banned from our house. At the time, I was pissed but as the mother of two potential teenagers, I can understand why my mom did not want her then 13 year old reading something that…explicit. But my love of romance continued. I grew reading Johanna Lindsey, Laura Kinsale and Jude Deveraux.
I can’t tell you when I stopped reading romance. I honestly have no idea when or why I stopped. But I went from loving all things historical romance to not reading one in years. Then, in 2001, I picked up Nora Roberts, Dance Upon Air and slowly reentered the romance world. Suzanne Brockmann made me want to write about the soldiers around me. Honestly, when I joined Austin RWA, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. The wonderful women there were talking about all these authors I who I’d never heard of. I was completely clueless.

 

Here’s another secret. I had not picked up a historical novel in years. I don’t remember the last one I read, but I know that Laura Kinsale’s were the only ones I had kept in a box of things from high school (yes, my copy of The Shadow and The Star still has Fabio on it). The first historical I read in years was Sherry Thomas’s Private Arrangements. I read it out of loyalty to the group of women who took me in and taught me about the world I’d somehow left behind when I joined the army.

 

I loved it. And here’s what else. I picked up Julia London’s Highland Scandal. Loved it. Teresa Medeiros just sent me a care package that included Tessa Dare, Lisa Kleypas, Jillian Hunter, Eloisa James and Liz Carlyle. I love them. Every book Teresa sent has been incredible, a reminder of something I used to love and am taking true pleasure in rediscovering.

 

I’m rediscovering that I enjoy historicals as much as I enjoy romantic suspense. Something I had not experienced in years has been a reawakening within me. I’m discovering new authors I’d never heard of and finding some that are on my permanent to be read list. I will read every book that Sherry Thomas and Julia London write. I will order Tessa Dare’s back list when I get home, just like I’m eagerly awaiting Laura Griffin’s Untraceable, Skyler White’s and Falling, Fly, and Julie Kenner’s Blood Lily series. Wide spectrum of authors and types of books. That’s not a bad thing.
Being over here in Iraq, I’ve rediscovered a romance and that’s provided me escape from the realities of Iraq. I didn’t like first person point of view books, then I read Julie Kenner’s Demon Hunting Soccer Mom series. Loved it (seriously laughed my ass off).

 

So try something new. Don’t limit yourself by saying I don’t like paranormals. Try one. Don’t refuse to read a historical. Try one. Ask a friend for a recommendation. But try something new and kick yourself out of the habit of familiar reads. You might just find something new or remember when you liked something different and you might just find the inspiration you need to kick your own writing into gear.

Thank You Part 2

I told you I was going to forget and these are along the lines of how could I possibly have forgotten. But I did, so there you go.

I’m correcting my egregious oversight now.  But rest assured, there will probably be more.

Thank you Irene Preston for trucking hundreds of pounds of care packages and books from ARWA to the post office and mailing them to me.

Thank you Teresa Medeiros for not banishing me from Twitter when I tweeted a secret (and for the massive care package:)

Thank you Emily McKay who sent my babies easter bunnies and little monkeys and said they were from me.
Thank you Wendy Rome for sending my soldiers taco night. It was a huge success and started a trend in my company.
People’s generosity this year is simply astonishing and I can’t thank you enough for your support!

The Imposter Within

I read a blog somewhere in the last few weeks that talked about feeling like an imposter. Like everything you’d done was a sham and that someone was going to come along and expose you.

 

That’s me. I’ve been in the army for 14 years and for everything I’ve done, I feel like I’ve been faking it. I know that’s not a good description but it’s the best I can come up with. I feel like I haven’t worked hard enough, that this deployment hasn’t really been that tough, that my books are never going to be good enough.

 

I’m my own worst critic. I’ve heard a lot of authors talk about self doubt but mine is a never ending struggle overcome that little voice inside that says ‘you’re a sham.’ If I’ve won a contest, it must have been that mine was the least bad of the entries. If I’ve had stuff requested, it was on a promise in the query that did not materialize in the manuscript. I feel like everything I’ve done, I could do better. I have an unending drive to make my book better, to the point that I must stop because I might be screwing it up rather than making it better. I’ll work on a manuscript until the words blur and I’ve memorized the pattern, but that doesn’t mean I’m actually succeeding in making it better.

 

So what brought this on? We had an awards ceremony today where members of the brigade staff and my battalion were awarded Bronze Stars. While I could easily look across the six rows of officers and NCOs and see those that worked their asses off, I felt a hot distaste as I looked and saw those who’d done nothing to deserve a Bronze Star as a thanks for playing award. Lest you get confused, I don’t feel like I deserved one, either. There are soldiers in my company that deserve this award more than I do.

 

I look at the comment that still sits like a black slash alone on the latrine wall and wonder if the person who wrote it sees something that others either don’t see or won’t say. I feel like in everything I do, it’s not good enough or that it wasn’t really that hard.

 

I look back on my year in Iraq and I have done nothing to deserve this award. I look at all the awards on my chest and many of them are awards for winning boards. It’s hard for me to accept that I’ve earned them or to hear that I have a reputation for working hard, because I don’t feel like it’s all that hard.

 

I’ve learned some difficult lessons this year, the hardest being that you can’t change the system. I don’t know when I made the change from idealist to cynical pragmatist, but it happened. Maybe it was before I became an officer, maybe it was after, but the system is too big for me to change.

 

But at the end of it all, I don’t deserve the recognition I received and I feel like sooner or later, someone is going to see that and call my bluff.

Growing

 

I’m not talking about my ass, either. This year has been an experience for me, in so many ways, it’s hard to count. But you know me, I’m going to try anyway.

 

As a soldier, I’ve grown because I understand the need for pragmatism. When I was a private or a sergeant looking up at the seniors in my company, I never understood some decisions that were made. Now, I think I can at least look at a decision and understand why, even if I still disagree with the what. That doesn’t mean I’m going to let it go, if its something I feel very strongly about, but I at least try to understand where someone else is coming from.

 

Taking that angle in trying to understand decisions from higher, I look for motivations to try and make my characters stronger, better and more realistic. I look at hard decisions that have been made over here and I put them on paper. I’m absolutely sure that my interpretation is wrong from what the folks experienced on the ground, but I’m trying to understand. I think in a very real way, writing about being over here has helped me channel some of the fear that I hold inside me that today might be the day the shit hits the fan. Am I ready?

 

As a soldier, I’ve tried – and failed – to maintain relationships. I’m very much a believer in say what you mean and I have an incredibly hard time dealing with people who say one thing to my face and do something else behind my back. I generally try not to deal with those, but once more, I try to understand. When it comes to posting on my blog, everything has been tempered with what if my brigade commander reads this? What would my friends Darcy say (as an officer and as a friend) or Bill (as a CSM and a friend)?  I’ve tried to maintain professionalism both publicly and privately and still struggle with this. There have been errors in judgment on my part and I won’t try to excuse them, just that I’ve learned from them.

 

I learned some powerful lessons about loyalty this year, both as a writer and as a soldier. When you have loyalty to someone, you expect that it is returned. It might not be and when that happens, it’s a major shift in how the world upholds balance. When loyalty is betrayed in a public sense, it’s all the more difficult to deal with. I have loyalty in odd places and in other instances, they make perfect sense. I have incredibly loyalty to soldiers on the ground who are accused because no one knows what decisions they’ve had to make or how they made them.  I won’t defend some decisions because they are an anathema to everything we stand for as soldiers and I won’t say I won’t try to understand. But I do know that a soldier on the ground makes a thousand life altering decisions in the space of seconds, so I try to understand that before I step aside and let the stone throwing begin.

 

As a writer, my single biggest accomplishment (other than landing a fab agent) was learning to revise my own stuff. Working with an awesome critique partner taught me how to look at her stuff and say why something was bothering me. In turn, I was able to take that same skill set and start applying it to mine. I’ve still got miles to go before this skill gets to where it needs to be, but I’ve at least been able to look at that draft and say nah, you need to go, the whole thing. I’m starting over. So we’ll see what happens when I start revising that second draftJ

 

This year in Iraq has not been easy. I’ve struggled with depression and insomnia. I haven’t used my insomnia to write – but I’m fixing to. If I can’t sleep, I might as well get out of bed and do something worthwhile. I’ve read and read and read some more and learned so much about writing and different authors and techniques. I’ve added some new favorites to my list of will read everything they write and I’m always open to suggestion for something new. I learned a lot about the publishing industry as a whole, just as I’ve learned about how the army works and the pragmatism that is ever present, regardless of the ideals you might hope for.

 

The whole point of this post is to keep learning and keep watching. There are character studies all around you. Look at a reaction and try to figure out where they’re coming from. Never pass of a moment to learn from something or someone around you. I’ve had some great teachers and I’m just grateful they haven’t given up on me, because I’ve learned some powerful lessons this year.

Saying Thank You

This week, Skyler White, author of the upcoming January release of and Falling, Fly posted on her blog about how grateful she was to Julie Kenner and Anya Bast for taking the time to give her quotes for her book. It was a reminder to me of just how generous the writing community is as a whole, but romance writers specifically.

As this year in Iraq winds down, I realize that I have a whole lot to be grateful for. It’s been a long year with some rough patches but it was made easier for me by a whole lot of people.

I’ve been meaning to post this for a while but Skye has motivated me to get off my butt, especially considering that I’ll be losing internet service shortly and will fall off the planet for a few weeks until we get home.

I’m going to miss a people but I’ve tried to keep track and failed. This year has been a rough one in many ways but I’m grateful for everyone’s support. If I don’t mention you, it’s not for lack of gratitude, it’s because I’m an airhead, not for lack of gratitude.

Thank you, to everyone in the RWA who answered the call for school supplies for Iraqi kids.

Thank you to everyone who sent their books over here for soldiers to read.

Thank you to every author who trucked a copy of their book to the post office, so I could share the new release.  I passed along every copy, to get the word out of your fantastic books.

Thank you Lexi Connor, for standing in line for me at RWA National and getting books signed, then trucking them to the post office and sending me cards from your class.

Thank you Jane Perrine for emailing me once a week and just saying hi.

Thank you Candace Irvin for kicking me in the ass when I wanted to quit.

Thank you Darcy Saint Amant for letting me lean on you for officer advice.

Thank you CSM Bill Crain for kicking me in the ass when I made stupid lieutenant mistakes and for supporting me through some rough lt moments.

Thank you Al Harris for house sitting and making me laugh. I hope you and my mom didn’t talking about anything too embarrassing.

Thank you Michelle McGinnis for unscrewing my blog when I crashed it. What took me 48 hours to screw up, you fixed in 20 minutes.

Thank you Isabel from SFWA and your critique partners, who mailed my Gotcha contest final in for me to the publisher.

Thank you Joann Ross for giving me a quote for War’s Darkest Fear and for sharing a character named Shane.

Thank you Laura Kinsale for being sweet enough to answer a random tweet and send me an ARC of Lessons in French. That tweet was just the beginning.

Thank you Roxanne St. Claire for sending me your Bullet Catchers Series and a ton of chocolate and for letting me pick your brain on what could make it better.

Thank you to everyone who friended me on Facebook (I just joined this year) and for following me on Twitter.

Thank you for those of you who posted on my blog even when your comments disagreed with mine. I love a good discussion and I’m glad to have been part of the debate over whatever we talked about this year.

Thank you RomVets, for answering the call in so many ways. You ladies paved the way for me to be here now and for that, thanks is not enough.

Thank you Austin RWA. You gal’s (and Gary) supported me in a way that brings tears to my eyes just thinking about it. From sending me books to the emails that just said hi, this year was so much less lonely because I had you. Your friendship means so much to me, more than you’ll ever know.

Thank you SB Sarah, for using me in blog on your site and for introducing me to the world of Smart Bitches and a whole lot of good laughs along the way.

Thank you Evelyn Palfrey for adopting my soldiers and making sure all of my girls and my friend Tamara in Afghanistan had the right stuff for her hair.

Thank you Cindy Gerard for the emails and school supplies. You rounded up so much support for the kids.

Thank you Sarah, Tigris Eden and Colleen Thompson for the mentions and the guest blogging opportunites.

Thank you Teresa Bodwell for you amazing insight and for letting me a part of Unleash Your Story. It was an honor to be able to blog for an awesome cause.

Thank you, Julie Kenner for tearing through my manuscript and helping me get it ready for my agent and for so much more that only you and I will ever know.

Thank you Kim Whalen for taking me on when I was half a world away and despite the fact that I need lots of TLC.

To my husband, who still loves me after spending a year in a 12 X8 room and putting up with my can’t put stuff away –it is.

But to my mom, who raised my babies this year, who harassed the living crap out of me when I asked about a fever. You went from Grammy to Mom over night. My girls are better for having spent this year and most of 2007 with you. I can’t wait to get them home but know this: I could not have done this year without you. Thank you, for loving my babies better than your own.

I know I’m forgetting people and for that I’m sorry. There will probably be a part 2, just because I’m going to forget and need to add more. Just know that I am incredibly grateful for all the support and all of our soldiers are grateful for every care package and every email.

Another Missed Birthday

Today is my youngest daughter’s 3rd birthday. We were lucky enough to have been there for the ones prior to this. We missed our oldest daughter’s 3rd, 4th, and 5th.

 

I decided yesterday to watch movies. Old movies of when Mia was a baby and Tory a rambunctious 2 year old. But what really got me was the video I had of three days after Mia was born. Tory and my husband sat on the couch, holding Mia. Tory had a look of wonder in her eyes as she looked up at her daddy. She just wanted to ‘hol her’ – hold her.

 

It was such a wild time for her. When we came home on mid-tour, she had the same look on her face. Awe. Disbelief. A stunned smile as if she couldn’t quite believe that we were both there on my mom’s porch.

 

Mia is a little different. We might have made it to her birthdays, but we’ve both missed more than half her life. My mom will have done all the potty training. She saw her walk. She’s been the one to hold her when she’s gotten sick and run her to the doctors to find out why she’s stopped talking after we left again.

 

So whereas Tory ran out to greet us, Mia was a few steps behind. She hid around the sliding glass door and for a moment, she wouldn’t come out. Then, she shrieked Mommy! And ran toward me (she wasn’t a big fan of her daddy for quite a while).

 

I’ve given up more than half my youngest daughter’s life. My dad drove me to the airport when she was barely seven months old for me to go to officer training. I didn’t see her again until she was almost a year. And she’d forgotten me when I did finally graduate from OCS.

 

So when I say that time is the one thing you can’t get back, I’m not exaggerating. I’m missing pictures of Tory’s birthdays. I’m missing whole years of their lives.

 

We’re down to less than 45 days before we get back to the states. I know it’ll be insane, trying to adjust from being just a soldier to being all those things that a mom is simply by virtue of being a mom. I know I’ll be busy because life is simpler over here in Iraq, but I’ll give up the simplicity just to be able to feel my daughters’ arms around my neck and know they’re safe and sound and tucked into bed a few feet away.

 

Happy Birthday, baby girl. We’ll see you soon.

Memorial

I don’t think anyone enjoys memorial ceremonies but they are a poignant reminder of what we risk when we deploy. Regardless of political or religious beliefs, at the end of the day, we are all soldiers and we all have a job to do that helps the soldier to your left and right make it home.

 

I never could hear Taps as a kid without tearing up. Now, it is impossible. The American Flag carries a different symbolism for me. The men and women who join our army in a time of war are joining knowing they are deploying to combat. They leave fathers and mothers, sons and daughters, husbands and wives back in the rear while they go and live and fight and die in a far off country.

 

I can’t explain the pull, the need to be with your soldiers. I can’t explain why a man would cut a cast from his arm in order to go and fight to find his buddies pinned down in a city.

 

But just because I can’t explain it, doesn’t make it any less real. And the pain of losing a soldier is something that changes the men and women that soldier fought and lived with. We remember the good, we laugh about the fun times but in the end, we pay tribute to a young soldier who died doing what they wanted to be doing.

 

We all volunteered to be here. Maybe not in Iraq, but we volunteered to serve.

 

Take a moment today to remember all those who have gone before us. The soldiers who gave their lives in the countless wars in our Nation’s history. Their names are different but they all died a hero’s death and you don’t have to know a soldier to feel the pain of their loss.

 

To our fallen, thank you for making the ultimate sacrifice. Our prayers are with your families.

Empowering Women: Romance’s Subversion

 

 I’ve started this blog four different times today but I think I finally found a way into it. I’ve been doing a lot of thinking this week about women in the military as well as women in romance. This week on Romancing the Blog, Sarah Frantz blogs about romance and military women and about how we make up 14% of the current active army force structure. Karin Tabke points out that her book is referred to as a “little joke” in a Newsweek article about women choosing to undergo female genital mutilation reversal surgery. And I’ve blogged over the year about how I feel about certain folks over here and the difference between females who try to blend in versus those who draw attention to themselves as women first, then as soldiers.

 

The Newsweek article struck me, forcibly, because in it, Sila, a woman who chose to have reconstructive surgery to repair her clitoris – which was removed by other women in her clan –  said that she enjoys romance novels because she wishes she could have ‘that’. In her response to the article Karin Tabke says that she’s tired of romance being jilted. She argues that romance is empowering.

 

I’ve kind of stayed out of the argument as to whether romance is empowering or not until now. I’ve been a student of religion for a long time and while my own religious tradition is Catholic, I challenge the idea that still holds in the Church that I am resigned to two roles: either whore or mother (Magdalene or Mary). And while I do chose to raise my daughters in that same tradition, I will also hopefully set an example for them that is more along the lines of “be whatever you want”.

 

What does this have to do with romance? Well, in the traditional religions, women are subjected to their husband’s wills. It is glaringly obvious in this part of the world that an unattached woman is vulnerable. Witness Africa, where rape is a tool of war and even being married is not a guarantee of safety. Women in this part of the world are limited in their world view in that they only have their mothers to look to as role models and their mothers are concerned with the more immediate problems of survival rather than women’s liberation. And female genital mutilation is performed and approved of by the women in their culture, all to gain approval of the male dominated society. This isn’t the point of this post, merely I’m using it to point out that men have taken away women’s power and convinced them that it is a good thing.

 

When Sila in the Newsweek article states that ‘she wishes she could be like’ the women she reads about in romance novels, I was moved, deeply. Romance novels are empowering for women. Even if the stereotypical romance reader – as mentioned in Smart Bitches Beyond Heaving Bosoms – is a frumpy spinster, romance is subversive. It gives us as women strong heroines to look to who are navigating what is still strongly a man’s world, regardless of their chosen profession. By giving a woman like Sila permission to crave her own sexuality – that is pleasure in herself as a woman, not as a thing for men to enjoy only – romance has brought awareness to another generation of women that we are not the root of all evil in the world, which is still a majority opinion in many of the traditional religions that blanket the world.

 

Romance is derided because women write it, among other reasons. I think it’s derided because it’s subversive. What could be worse than taking sexual power away from the head of the nuclear family – the man – and giving it to women? Not only  are we taking power from a man, but we are claiming it for ourselves and that includes sexual pleasure.
This is not without consequences. Violence against women is rising around the world, both as a tool of war and as a reflection of a loss of power. While I’m not going into the discussion of rape here, I will say that as a soldier, the question of how I appear to my male counterparts is a direct reflection of me as a woman, not just as a soldier. No matter how much I might want to be one of the guys, I’m not. I’m also in a unique position over here because I go to chow and the gym with my husband: ergo, I don’t get a lot of sexual male attention. This is okay with me, but I tend to have a very visceral response to male attention. I don’t want it. I want to do my job. I don’t want special favors as a woman. But I won’t go to the chow hall without my husband because I can feel the eyes and the stares and I feel dirty because of it. Other women here have to deal with that daily. Some welcome it, others don’t but it is the cost of doing business as a woman in the military.

 

But, what about those women who are over here that do want to be women first, soldiers second? What about those women who like the male attention or who wear makeup simply because it makes them feel good? What about those women who have no idea how to be one of the guys because a notion is a foreign to them as being a flirty girly girl to me is? Are they wrong? Am I?

 

I don’t know. I think it requires balance and if you choose to highlight yourself as a woman, you will necessarily lose credibility among the males around you. I see it right now, when two girly girls moved into the TOC. They are the subject of ridicule because they spent more time on their hair than their reports. Has anyone ever told them that to their face? I haven’t for a  multitude of reasons but mostly because I fear the argument will be turned against me.

Because here’s another dirty little secret: we’re our own biggest cheerleaders and toughest critics. A female editor is more likely to hammer a manuscript if she thinks it’s been written by a women. A female officer is more likely to harder on her female lieutenants than a male. And a romance writer is at once cheered if her book is ‘good’ and jeered if the writing is less than stellar. We cheer when a woman gets ahead and yet, we cringe when ‘feminists’ take to the airways defending women’s rights.

 

I think having a dialogue about empowering women –both in the military and in the writing world – involves many factors. I know kick ass field grade officers who read Christina Dodd. I know I’ve passed along Sherry Thomas and Laura Kinsale among others to the female sergeants I work with. I’ve had discussions about romance with male soldiers – who have never read a romance novel but deride it nonetheless. The role of women in our society can be directly tied to the perceptions of romance.

 

 I think we need to start by mentoring and raising our daughters to look beyond Bratz and bar wenches. One of the field grade officers over here takes young privates who look at (brace yourselves profanity ahead) a female who thinks everyone wants to fuck her and enjoys the male attention. A woman in a position of power is looked up to by younger women and when this role model is someone who cheats on her husband, it sets a bad example. This major takes these young women aside and teaches and mentors them that there is more to life than getting a male’s attention. Over here in Iraq, it’s too easy to fall into the ‘queen for a year’ mentality and reduce our effectiveness based on what can we get because someone wants to sleep with us.

 

So we need to mentor. The RWA is a fantastic example of mentorship in action. Experienced women writers team up with newbies and provide mentorship and training in the writing world where as in the military world, we tend to ostracize those who don’t fit into our mold of what right looks like.

 

As the romance genre continues to evolve and the discussion of women’s roles in the military continue to evolve as the battlefield remains non linear for the next few wars, we as women will have to continue to look at our rolls in society and our contribution to it. Are we simply whores or mothers or are we something else entirely, starting with individuals? I’d argue that romance provides an example, in all its raw claiming of sexuality and the pleasure that we are now allowed to have in it, that can serve as a roll model. There are some craptastically terrible books out there, just as there are female officers who are happy to screw their way to a good report card but there are also books that challenge the very meaning of what happiness means and defines new roles for women and female soldiers who earn the respect of their peers by being a bad ass fifty cal gunner. 

 

And as long as women are ostracized for not wanting sex to hurt and risking the stigma of daring to claim their rights as women and sexual beings, we’re doing to a good thing.

 

We are more than mother or whore and the romance genre leads the way in showing us a way out of the kitchen or the whore house.

 

Continue the subversion ladies.

 

We’ve got daughters looking up to us.