Thursday, August 04, 2005

Jobs Redux

This is a follow up from yesterday's topic.

In the comments, Anonymous (and sorry I can't credit you by name, but you *are* anonymous *g*) said:

"If the hero and/or heroine are in some branch of the military, it takes something *very* special to stop me from putting the book back as quickly as I picked it up - military scenarios are a huge turn-off for me."

This totally caught my attention, and I asked a follow up question in my response to this comment. But I know sometimes I don't go back to old comments on old posts, so perhaps Anonymous didn't see it, thus I'll ask it here and hope she (or he) can give me some insight.

My question is this: is it the hero/heroine's profession that is a turn-off or the scenario for the story? Meaning, if the hero is a military guy - say a Green Beret - but the story has nothing to do whatsoever with any kind of military situation - say it's set at an amusement park and involves his sister's church youth group - would you still give the story a chance? And I guess the opposite situation begs the same question. If I had a high school history teacher suddenly find himself thrust into the middle of a military coup while taking students on a field trip to Mexico, would that make you stop reading?

I honestly would love to know the answer to this, because this very much speaks to what I was getting at yesterday. A few of the stories I have crashing around in some stage of progress involve military men but do not involve military situations. And that's when I started to wonder if, since the guys weren't toting AK47s and battling Tangos during the course of the story, maybe they didn't need to be military men. Maybe they could be architects on vacation or disc jockeys returning home to deal with a sick parent.

Seems to me there are two situations when it comes to professions and story. In the first case, the story revolves around some situation arising out of a person's job. This is where the military thing comes in for me. I love stories that involve damsels in distress, and since twenty-first century reality doesn't often involve American heroines who require rescuing from evil overlord fathers or wicked step brothers forcing them into unwanted marriages, you have to look outside the box to get these girls into enough danger to warrant some kind of rescuing.

Before you can think me un-PC and anti-feminist and being guilty of perpetrating the image of weak, helpless females, let me point out that this is another reason for my love of the soldier hero. I like to think that most modern women have the knowledge or the resources or the ability to aquire either to get themselves out of most common-place jams. In order to require help, they need to be placed in a situation where their own intelligence, abilities and good common sense is not enough. Enter the guy who knows how to sneak out of a terrorist compound undetected or to diffuse a bomb before it can blow a busload of innocent passengers to kingdom come. No one can blame a heroine for letting a big strong guy with grease paint smeared over his face lead her through the jungle and keep from eating a poisonous plant that looks just like a plain old banana to her.

The second situation, where maybe the hero's job isn't such a big deal, is when the story arises from something that happens away from the job. You know, all of those hero returns to his hometown/takes a long needed vacation/volunteers to build houses for the homeless as part of his community service type of scenarios. In such a case, what he normally does isn't a factor except in how it defines his personality. A college football coach is going to go about that dude ranch vacation fiasco a lot differently than a landscape architect might. And in it's in this instance that I ask the question of how important profession is.

I think, in the end, Steph Tyler said it best in her comment to the last post:

"Milrom is what I love to read and love to write - and if I'm not happy with what I'm writing, there's no point."

That's the way I feel. It's what I love, therefore it's what I can get excited about and what is fun to write. Writing is hard enough work as it is without forcing yourself into an area you don't enjoy. I think in my case I'll focus on writing the best story I can, then worry about if what I've written will or won't sell only after I have real live editors and agents tell me that what my people do for a living is the problem.

Oh, and thanks, Steph, for giving me a cool name to put to what it is I enjoy writing. I love milrom and had never heard it before.

Okay, now that I've hashed this topic to bits, I promise something new tomorrow. Specically, that whole secret baby plot deal.


Anonymous said...

Okay, you asked me a question and here's my answer, Lynn. :) You're quite right: it's a combination of occupation and situation. (Sorry, I don't remember that old blog and am not sure if I read it. :/ ). So, yes, a Marine invalided out and being taken care of by a down-home nurse back in the small town where he grew up: that might interest me, and I remember reading and enjoying a series romance with that as the plot. An ex-military guy turned troubleshooter of some sort: that would probably depend on the plot and premise. Actually, I've recently read Lee Child's series of books about Jack Reacher, a former soldier/military policeman turned drifter, and mostly enjoyed them.

But soldiers or ex-soldiers aren't my preferred hero, whatever the premise or situation. It's just something about the military mindset which bothers me (and you may remember having had this conversation with me in another context ;) ). Even having had a good friend who was a former soldier and coming to respect him for what he stood for, I still hated the fact that he'd been trained to kill other human beings and had in fact killed.

You're right, too, about the novel's situation affecting whether or not my preferred hero would still make me buy the novel: stick a university professor in the middle of a cattle ranch in Montana and that book goes back on the shelf real fast! ;)

Anonymous said...

Darn, I can't edit my comment, so I'm back to add more. You know, if what you're interested in is the guy who can save the day, regardless of his occupation, then the hero doesn't necessarily have to be military. Just because someone's a CPA, to take a totally random example, ;) doesn't mean that he doesn't have hero potential. That he won't step up when there's a damsel in distress or a little old lady whose home is falling down. That he doesn't know any survival techniques, for example, or isn't good with his hands. Or that he wasn't in the Boy Scouts when a kid, or in the reserves for a while as an adult. Or been into backwoods camping or orienteering or survivalist training.

I know my dislike of military backgrounds is more pronounced because I'm not North American; in some other countries, the military tends to be viewed somewhat differently, less revered. Attitudes vary from respect to my own perception, which is that the armed forces are a necessary evil and can occasionally attract the sort of person who is really just on a power trip. :( And therefore, to me, military heroes, almost whatever the context, are really a total turn-off.

Oh, and... Milrom? What's that?

Lynn Raye Harris said...

My husband is in the Air Force. The only thing he's been trained to kill is a computer virus. Ha! But, yeah, the reason for the military's existence is to fight wars. Therefore, they are theoretically trained to kill. And most likely, when we write military heroes, they are in situations that require battle (though I have written two that were home on leave). Which is odd for me, because I am pretty much anti-war. Still, I write these guys. Don't know why. Oh, and I'm a different Lynn than the one whose blog this is. :)

You said "the armed forces are a necessary evil and can occasionally attract the sort of person who is really just on a power trip." So can law enforcement, in my opinion. Interesting conversation! Not something I would have thought of, so thanks for sharing your opinion. It's valuable to know how others perceive what I may take as a given.

Lynn M said...

Thanks, Anon (who I'm pretty sure is one of my good friends *g*), for clearing this up for me. I understand what you mean now. Kind of like I said in my blog when the career choice says something about the individual who made it. Military men are a certain breed, and whether they are fighting a war or mowing the lawn, it's possible that they exude a quality that might not be what everyone loves in a hero.

And Lynn (not me *g*), I think you have such a lucky in going on. With your husband in the military -even though his work isn't necessarily front-line firefight-intensive - means you have a great seat for watching what goes on. And I would guess that perhaps some of your husband's buddies are the types that I imagine when I think of military heroes (plus your husband being one of them himself!!). Talk about writing what you know :).

This has really been interesting and has helped me clarify some things in my own mind. So thanks for this discussion.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the responses, Lynn and Lynn. :) I'm aware that my views on the subject are very much a personal prejudice and that it's not something that's necessarily shared, especially on this side of the Atlantic. Just as my complete lack of interest in ranchers/cowboys/farmers/horsebreeders/Western themes will not be widely shared. I also have no wish to offend anyone who doesn't share my particular anti-military prejudice. I have no doubt whatsoever that individual members of the armed forces are very sincere about the worth of what they're doing and that many, many of them do a good job to the best of their abilities in the circumstances in which they find themselves (my disagreements are more likely to be with their leaders than the rank and file ;) ). I just hate killing and can't find myself feeling any fondness for a job which involves killing as a major component, regardless of the justification. :( Which means it's just as well that I'll never be in a position where those sort of difficult choices have to be made!

Coming back to the purpose of Lynn's blog, I guess we all have our own preferences and prejudices when it comes to the subject-matter of a novel and the occupations/backgrounds of our characters. The way I look at it is that you should write what interests you: you'll find a readership, because there are millions of readers out there with so many diverse interests.

Trends come and go, it seems, but I don't think I've ever noticed a complete absence of certain types of scenario, other than those which today might be considered really icky or close to abuse - for example, I remember about 20-25 years ago seeing a lot of contemporary romances involving a 30-something hero and a 17-18-year-old heroine who would usually have just become the ward of the hero, or some similar thing. Now, we'd see that kind of thing as close to abuse or paedophilia at worst, and just plain icky at best. Abuse of trust and so on. Then, it was the theme of many romances... go figure!

Larissa said...

I love milroms!

Of course, I have a huge military background--my grandfather and uncle were both military, as well as my stepdad, who was an Air Force Thunderbird.

I was in the Air Force myself, as a meteorologist. My brother is in the Air Force, flying with pararescue jumpers. And finally, my husband is in the Coast Guard.

One of the reasons I like military heroes isn't that they are "trained to kill," but they are trained to save lives.

The mission of the Coast Guard isn't to kill. It isn't even to fight. It's to save idiots who get themselves into trouble on the sea. It's to stop drug trafficking. It's to inspect dangerous vessels.

Many Air Force missions are also not violent. Air Force pararescue jumpers risk their lives to save civilian plane crash victims, boating accident victims, and lost mountain climbers.

In peacetime, soldiers fight forest fires.

THIS is what I find is the draw to military romances. It isn't that they can kill, but that they can save.

Lynn Raye Harris said...

Dear Anon, your comment about the Atlantic gives me a much better idea about where you are coming from both literally and figuratively. As someone who adores Europe, and lived there for nearly a decade, I completely understand the different attitudes regarding the military. And if you aren't European, I still understand. I almost think it should be a requirement for Americans to spend at least a year living abroad. :) No better way to understand the world than to go see it. Just my opinion, of course. :)

Lynn, yes, I write what I know but it took me a while to get there. I started out writing historicals and then one day, too long after I should have figured it out, I gave myself the smack on the head and said, "dummy, what are you doing?" Once I figured out I should be writing milrom, I haven't looked back. I am fortunate to be exposed to more than the Air Force though. Hubby works with all branches in his office, and we go to church with primarily Navy people. And there's a big Marine Corps base close by.

Larissa, you are absolutely right! The Air Force really isn't so much a fight and kill service, and neither is the Navy or the Coast Guard. The Marines and Army do focus on the ground battle segment, but even they have other jobs. In fact, for Anon, just about any job that exists in the civilian world also exists in the military: veterinarians, doctors, nurses, radio repairmen, engineers, plumbers, cooks, event planners, lawyers, reporters, photographers, etc. I could go on and on! Many of the people who join the military do so for the opportunities it provides. My hubby is a sweet man, and though he's M16 qualified because he has to be, he's not a frontline combat troop. He's a comm guy and he's a manager. He runs the networks just like your average guy at the corporation down the street. He just puts on combat boots and camis to do it instead of a suit and tie.

Sorry to rattle on, but this really is a fascinating topic, Lynn! Glad you asked about it and glad I stumbled by. I figured I should visit the other Lynn's I ran across on Romancing the Blog. :)

Larissa said...

Lynn, exactly! What people don't realize is that even the more "battle focused" branches of the military, like the Marines and Army, are still primarily full of support positions. 85% of the military's jobs are support jobs--communications, service, medical, etc.

And most people join the military not to learn to shoot a gun and kill people, but to learn a job skill they can use in the civilian world.

Even those who do enter "fighting jobs" find that most of their career is spent training and doing civilian work like firefighting, search and rescue, disaster preparation, building homes, etc. Like the police, most soldiers spend their entire careers without ever shooting their guns at someone.

There are nuts who join the military to be tough, and to get a power trip, but fortunately, to join the military you have to pass psychological exams, and most nuts are excluded. A few pass through, but you know, they pass through in every other job in society, as well. :)

Lynn M said...

Larissa and Lynn bring up some interesting points as far as military careers go. Sounds like a good majority of the military population remains at home or goes overseas to perform support jobs rather than tote a gun and man the front lines. But it also seems to be the case that in most milroms (Anon - that's military romance, btw) the heroes are trained in either some sort of special operations or rescue capacity. I'm sure they are out there, but I haven't read any romances about military vetrinarians or military electricians. Which makes me wonder if there isn't something about the violence involved that pushes the glamour of the military hero for those of us who like him so much.

I admit to falling into this trap. I think if I had a hero who was a plumber, it wouldn't accur to me to make him a military plumber. Why bother if there isn't going to be some military aspect to the story?

There is something incredibly sexy about a man who is trained to kill and could do so if properly motivated. I'm not saying this is right, and I'm not saying that other positions in the military aren't sexy as well. One of my characters is an AF PJ, who would rather jump out of a helo without a parachute than kill someone. Even so, he could if he had to. Which makes him a different person than, say, a paramedic. And I have to ask myself if that difference is really important to the story.

This conversations has been so great!! You guys have really helped me settle some things in my head by making me ask some questions about the choices I've made for me heroes. Thanks so much. :)

Lynn M said...

Sorry about the bad grammar, spelling, and generally sucky typing! My excuse is that I haven't had any coffee yet, so I'm jittery. *g*

Steph T. said...

I missed the whole discussion! LOL! That's what I get for being on vacation...

Anyway - I *think* I first heard the term milrom from my buddy Larissa *ggg* I love the term too!

Larissa said...

Lynn, that's a good point about the whole "wondering if there isn't something about the violence involved that pushes the glamour of the military hero for those of us who like him so much."

I tend to agree that there is something sexy about a man who is capable of doing what needs to be done, and doing it without reservation. I blogged about this not long ago--the grit factor.

But you know, that military plumber or electrician COULD be the hero a milrom. Say he used to be a grunt, but he got tired of it. Wanted something less stressful and less violent. Cross-trained to be a plumber. Now he plunges toilets on the base. But he's at a bar having a drink, when a bunch of bad guys take over the bar with the heroine bartender. Now plumber man has to pull out all his military skills to save them.

So you could still get away with not using the typical badass/special forces type military hero and still have a milrom. Hmm...that's got my brain going now. *g*

BTW, if you need any help with the PJ stuff, my brother works, trains, and flies with them. If you need help with the medical aspects, I'm an EMT, and I've written a PJ hero, so I've got lots of research! :)

Lynn Raye Harris said...

I'm seriously late getting back to this discussion. Summer cold, long weekend, etc. But, real quick, I just wanted to say about the hero that's a plumber but used to be something else: Under Siege, Steven Segal. He was a cook who used to be a Navy SEAL, right? And man, when it came time to blow stuff up and kick bad guy butt, he was the man for the job. Interestingly, I didn't realize that movie took place on the USS Missouri until I watched it again recently. And then I made hubby take me over to Pearl so we could climb all over the Mighty Mo. If you ever come to Hawaii, be sure to see the MM. You get total freedom to climb all over the ship. It's not free, like the Arizona, but it's worth it.