Inside the Lair of Mystery
A Day In the Life of America’s Favorite Comic Anti-Hero
Doctrine Man is the pseudonym for a career Army officer, disruptive thinker, and writer who has spent much of the past 30 years trying to make the uniformed ranks a better place for us all. A proud product of the public education system of the state of Idaho, he is a recovering Army doctrine writer, strategist, and founding member of the Military Writers Guild. Since first stumbling to national attention in a New York Times profile, Doctrine Man has worked tirelessly to raise public awareness of defense issues, bring common sense solutions to the rank and file, and burn the reflective belt at the stake. His annual comic compendiums have since graced the pages of Amazon, his coins are a staple in coin racks around the world, and his opinions are actually respected in small, isolated circles of cave-dwelling early humans.
[John DeRosa] Thanks for the interview, but did I really have to be blindfolded and stuffed in the trunk of a car to get here?
[Doctrine Man] The blindfold was more for your own protection. I don’t know why you insisted on getting into the trunk of the car.
[JD] Never mind that…let’s get to it. What does the first hour of your day look like? What time do you typically wake up?
[DM] I’m an early riser, usually up and rolling before 0500. That first hour of the day is my most creative time of the day. My best writing and best cartooning occur before the sun comes up. It’s quiet, the coffee is fresh, and the ideas flow so much better. That hour flies by, unfortunately. I have long wished I could find a way to replicate that hour at other points in the day.
[JD] What are some of your daily routines?
[DM] The first hour is routine. I follow that with 30–45 minutes on the treadmill or elliptical when I review my Facebook and Twitter feeds, read the news and start scheduling posts for the day. By the time I break routine and head for work, I’ve fueled for the day with plenty of caffeine and it’s about 0730. I hold to that routine five days a week, even when I’m on leave. That’s what keeps me focused and on azimuth.
[JD] How does your routine change on the weekend to decompress?
[DM] It doesn’t, really. I might sleep a little later, but the routine stays basically the same. The weekends are also crunch times when I put the finishing touches on cartoons, edit posts and formulate ideas for the future. The only real difference is that I’m not physically at work, so the pace slows just a bit. Because of that, we try to start the weekend on Friday night with dinner out, maybe a movie. Basically trying to stretch as much out of the weekend as possible.
[JD] Describe your creative (writing) space.
[DM] Most of my writing is done from a small home office, surrounded by books, with a hot cup of coffee at my side. True to form, you’ll find a statue of Spawn on one of the bookshelves, an old copy of “Sgt. Fury and His Howling Commandos” on another. Reminders of my roots and what inspired me to do what I’ve done for so many years.
[JD] Describe your creative (writing) routine.
[DM] Random, stream of consciousness. I have no real routine. An idea will come to me and I’ll write it down… allow it to percolate for a while. Over time, the idea will take a general shape and I’ll start to see passages forming. When I’m ready, I sit down and write, usually from beginning to end. Long-form writing is a little more challenging, but it’s the same general process. I’ll surround myself with research materials, coffee, and a keyboard… and start writing.
[JD] How do you determine what you are writing about?
[DM] How I determine what to write is just as random as the process. An idea will come to me out of nowhere. For example, just moments ago, I had the idea to write about an old friend of mine who died in the early 90s in a jump at Fort Bragg. He had a John Nash sort of mind, unparalleled brilliance that made him difficult to be around at times. That “beautiful mind” was something to behold, a spark that was extinguished far too early.
[JD] What does your note taking system look like? How do you gather information for your writing?
[DM] What are notes? Seriously, I don’t take a lot of notes. I scribble out ideas, sometimes to the point of complete sentences, but most of what I do is fairly random. Gathering information is another thing altogether. When I write long-form pieces for publication, I tend to find everything I can about a subject and have it available when I write so I can reference passages as necessary. When I’m writing, my reading speed increases exponentially… it’s kind of a weird phenomenon, but it really comes in handy when I’m putting pen to paper.
[JD] What are you reading lately?
Barbara Tuchman’s The Guns of August. There are some disturbing parallels between the pre-war evolution of French military doctrine and our own over the past few years. It’s a good reminder that you can’t win a war with talking points.
I’ve also got George Marshall waiting on the nightstand. I’m a few pages into it but switched over to Tuchman’s classic after watching “Our World War” on BBC. Cravings, you know, and there’s no better place to start.
[JD] How do you find what to read?
[DM] I tend to read the same way I eat. I follow my cravings. But I also find no shortage of recommendations from The Faithful (DM’s legion of followers), quite a few of whom are writers, too. It’s never a matter of finding what to read, but the time to read.
[JD] Is there a genre of reading you prefer?
[DM] I tend to shift between brain candy (fiction) and intellectual fuel (history and political science). When I deploy, I’ll shift to science fiction for some reason… the more pulp-like, the better.
[JD] What is the book you’re most likely to give as a gift or one you’ve given as a gift the most?
[DM] Young Men and Fire by Norman MacLean. I’ve bought so many copies of that over the years, I’ve lost count. MacLean (who also wrote A River Runs through It), captures everything we’re trying to build into our leaders through the Human Dimension effort within the microcosm of a 1949 forest fire in Montana. It’s brilliantly written, incredibly thorough, and absolutely a page-turner.
[JD] What’s your drink of choice?
[DM] Hoegaarden. The real stuff, not the import. After living in Belgium for four years, I’m hopelessly addicted to fine wheat beer. And it doesn’t get any better than that.
[JD] Where’s the most adventurous place you have been?
[DM] Let’s see… hanging out of the back of a CH-47, puking my guts out with food poisoning while being shot at from the ground? If you take the combat zone out of the picture, I’d have to say driving my pregnant wife across the country to the basic course… we took a month to do it and stopped at every roadside attraction along the way, including the world’s largest ball of twine (not to be missed) and some roadside freak show in South Dakota. It was like a long scene out of Vacation, right down to having our car break down in the middle of nowhere, where the only people within miles were more than willing to take every penny we had to put us back on the road. Somehow, when we showed up to Wally World (the basic course) we were three days early and they were closed. That was one hell of an adventure.
[JD] What bold steps would you like to see the Guild take?
[DM] Collaborate. We possess a growing stable of great writers, bloggers, and networkers. Now we need to take the next step and focus those efforts toward our own platform, our own products, and our own benefit. First, I’d like to see us structure that collaboration better… we do a lot together, but not in a really structured way. Adding some form and function to that effort. Second, I’d like to see us formally publish a collection of some of our work, along the lines that Mike Denny discussed recently in his post on The Bridge. We have the publishing know-how within the Guild, so let’s put it to work for us.
[JD] Once again, thanks for the interview. It has been fun. Now how do I get out of here?
[DM] Go down three cubicles and through the door on the right. You can find your way from there.
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