Talking Writing as a Veteran with H. James Lopez
I met H. James Lopez in a Facebook writers’ group that not only geeked out over writing and reading various literary punk genres, but also puts out a regular anthology to benefit stray and homeless animals. (I’m referring here to Writerpunk Press, and if you like punk re-takes on literary classics, I suggest you go check them out.) Lopez has contributed some excellent stories, and has a keen editor’s eye; his comments on my story made it one hundred times better in the rewriting process.
I think he’s got some good things to say, so I’m going to get out of his way and let him say them…
Q: Tell us a little bit about yourself and your writing.
A: So, I was a college grad when I joined the US Army. I went into the Intelligence field and was an Enlisted Soldier for (of all reasons) the money was better in the short term. I spent six years working Counter Narcotics and Joint Service missions for the Army all throughout North and South America (it sounds cooler than it was). I spent the last two and a quarter years after that as a Operation Center NCOIC in various locations in Iraq, and then found my way out of the military.
After the service, I took on an IT job and now write when I can. Most of my Novel-length fiction is in the Action Adventure vein, and I strive to put out SF and Fantasy work in smaller doses.
Q: You mentioned that your time as a veteran impacts your writing, particularly in staging fight scenes, or the actual monotony of most of military life, and the chaos of events. Is this something you set out to do deliberately, or something that occurred naturally as you write? And how do these very specific aspects connect to the larger themes in your writing?
A: I cross trained as a Track Vehicle mechanic (seriously), which put me in a few different motor pools with a whole lot of scrappers. Men (and women) whose principle response was almost always physical. Slap on the ass for good work, one on the back of the head for a shit job. And sometimes fists were the only way to solve arguments (especially about ridiculous shit).
On the other side of this, I worked on House-to-House searches and some interdiction teams and watched how people fought when their lives were on the line. Fight styles change based on location, reason, reaction and result. I try to make sure I understand these changes when I craft a fight scene. Sure, you can make it easy and every fighter is a “Jason Bourne” type and the fights go for chapters, but when did that farm hand in Missouri learn Krav Magra?
On monotony and chaos. The military is big on the ‘Hurry up and Wait’ concept. Lots of fast movement and then a drag afterward. When I write, I try to press the action/reaction of this. Combat troops are not always confronted by their enemies immediately. Monotony does set in even in the toughest circumstance and I think it helps humanize some of the characters.
By that same token, Chaos exists no matter how much training or preparation you think you may have done. I think showcasing how people react, that not all soldiers are these cookie cut warriors trained from birth to take life, is something the world needs to see more of.
Q: You also mentioned that your time in the military has made your writing more truncated and realistic. Given that you write a lot in genre (such as with Writerpunk Press), can you unpack this statement?
A: My writing is short and simple. Sure I have some elements of drama and wordiness but I try to limit them. I have had people note that it sometimes lacks description in the background or perhaps the full paragraph description of a character and I agree. I write what the reader needs to know and I try not to waste their time.
Q: What are some of the common narratives concerning veterans that you’ve seen in the news/entertainment media? Do they coincide with your own themes? If you could choose to expand the range/variety of veteran stories, what themes/aspects would you choose and why?
A: To be honest, the current undercut of military stories annoy the crap out of me. Everyone is an officer and part of an elite unit. Everyone has a singular mission where all six of your men (again all high ranking members) work as a fluid team to stop every bad thing from happening. All these men are superiorly trained in every possible hand to hand combat and analytically trained to MacGyver type levels to adapt and overcome.
I was on one of six teams doing house searches in Iraq. As an E6 I was second in charge of my team to an E7 who had been in the Army 18 months longer than me with no combat experience. She was the highest ranking NCO of all six teams. We had a LT and a CPT who coordinated all the teams from behind the wall and miles away. No one on any of these teams was over the age of 32.
If it were a television pilot or a movie, these would be grizzled soldiers and not one would be under 35 because people don’t want to know how young soldiers really are. People want to think these are experienced and hardened soldiers, so if they die, they did so after a good life. The young men and women who serve, their stories are being forgotten, and I would like to see more of that in society and film (Where did this soapbox come from…?) (Editor’s Note: Don’t worry, we all have one!)
Q: What are some of your favorite aspects to highlight/write (of the military) and why?
A: The people. Characters abound in the military. You have reasons for joining, reasons for staying, why this branch over that one. The military took from every facet of life and gave people purpose. Sometimes it gave second chances. I worked with a truck driver (88M) who had a non-violent felony conviction and two misdemeanors on his record back home. Judge deferred his sentence if he signed up for the army for a six year tour (rank could never exceed E4). He’d turned his life around, had a job, met a girl, had some skills — pretty good chance he was going to extend past six if they let him. Sometimes the littlest things (like having a job) can change a man’s life.
Q: What advice would you give to veterans who are interested in writing their own stories?
A: Write what you remember but try not to get tied up in the details. A lot of stuff I read from veterans has so much detail and gore and violence but you lose sight of the story. You have to remember that the story is what matters and the secret to telling the story is not to shove it down the throat of the reader. If the theme is universal, very little is necessary to get your point across.
Q: Anything to add?
A: I would encourage ANY and EVERY writer to try different genres. If I only stuck to military fiction I would have never tried Writerpunk Press or even worked on some of the High fantasy stuff I am sending out now. One of the things the military was great at is the beleif that any Soldier, with some training, can learn any task. As a writer you should embrace that. Try any genre, erotica, romance, military, scifi.If you never stretch your possibilities, you never know where you may be amazing.
You can find H. James Lopez on Facebook, or check out his Amazon page at: https://www.amazon.com/H.-James-Lopez/e/B00TR962IE. Also, stop by Writerpunk Press or the Writerpunk FB Page and say hi!