Brass Tacks

A 1,300 word short story.

Private First Class Greg “Sully” O’Sullivan was before a screen in the cool communications room, cordoned off with a woman on the screen half a world away. They weren’t strangers but the closest two people could be. Wetness pooled in his eyes. They weren’t talking as if thousands of miles were between them.

“Kate, I can’t think of anything else. I want to be back with you.”

“Sully get your head on straight. Stay safe out there, baby.”

“What’s the matter Kate? You look different.”

“Took you that long to notice, huh?”

“Umm.”

“It’s nothing. I’m pregnant that’s all.” Kate was cool. She didn’t care half the time, and people couldn’t tell when she did.

He knew enough to guess. How they’d been getting baby clothes in the mail. The way Kate was around kids. He knew, but her words wouldn’t be enough. Nothing would be until they were together again.


PFC Sully walked to the humvees they were taking out for a drive across the scorching desert of a newly liberated Iraq. The city portion would be downright deadly. Sully was shaking with nerves, and that was status quo. It was enough that nothing had happened, yet. No one knew, but Sully didn’t show it either. He belonged there, and no one could say otherwise.

The Staff Sergeant commanding the Unit, “Rough Neck” Cochran patted Sully on the back. “Mounting up on the 50 cal. today, Sully?”

Sully didn’t have to think. In a mere matter of months, he would have a little person in his arms. And it felt alone as hell up there. A massive barrel in your hands and a tiny piece of armor around you — a target and unprotected at the same time. And the desolate streets had threats in every direction. Sully wasn’t the arrogant risk taker he once was as a young Marine.

“Not me today, Rough Neck. Give Keller the hot seat.”

“Your loss bud. Your loss.”


Sully was in the back across from the sweaty Private Vandorne. She was the only woman in the Unit. Sully was chatting it up with Rough Neck, shooting shit against a stiff breeze. The Privates weren’t buying their bullshit. The other members of their Unit followed behind in two humvees. That’s when it happened.

A IED on the street exploded. Debris flew everywhere. It was a tank shell that blew a hole in the ground. The entire block was on fire. There was no way through. The line of humvees backed up on Rough Neck’s orders. Another explosion cut off the way back. They were stuck.

Bullets flew through the air and in through the windows. The glass nicked and shattered under the barrage. They were in the crossfire from either side.

Vandorne groaned.

Rough Neck ordered everyone out.

Vandorne was hit.

Sully pulled her out through the door. Cover fire went up. Sully scanned the buildings. An empty courtyard was behind them. He dragged the injured Vandorne across the pale sand, leaving droplets of red in their wake.

Vandorne was gasping for breath. Sully pulled off her helmet. He had to do a double take. Sure, his wife had brown hair. And sure they both had pale, translucent skin. They looked a little alike. Sully’s heart stirred at the similarities between the two women.

The resemblance added panic to his actions. She was shot in the shoulder. There was a pool of blood growing on the ground. Sully pulled the coagulation powder and sprinkled it down. He pressed a compression wrap on the hole in Vandorne. She cried out in agony despite fast intakes of breath. Sully saw the life drain from her eyes. The hint of light became dull and disappeared.

Sully’s throat went hard.

Rough Neck was on the radio. “Positions go.”

Their Unit was all over the block. Sully chimed in.

“Sully, you’re the closest bud.”

“Copy that.”

“Get up those stairs and show the motherfuckers the force of nature that is a United States Marine. Nail those fuckers into the ground. We’re getting hammered on the south face of this godforsaken block. Everyone over there converge on Sully.”

“Vandorne’s KIA”

Everyone was quite for a moment.

“Get up those stairs, Marine.”

Sully had a moment of seeing his flag draped coffin. His wife crying. Their child wailing. Then it was gone.

Anger took its place. Nothing would keep him from seeing his family again. A few things needed to happen. And they would happen. Anything standing in the way would burn up faced down with Sully’s sheer determination. Fancy words held no consolation for Sully. Action was the only thing that mattered.

Sully stepped away from Vandorne’s body, saying a prayer. He set his helmet straight and cocked his gun. He walked with the weight of his mission to see his wife again. His mind was clear. Action, consequence. Vindication was coming on the back of Sully. He would show everyone that his name meant something. That there was justice in the world.

He kicked down the door. Walking the building, he threw open each door and swept the rooms clean with his gun sight. He went up another flight of stairs and combed the dusty rooms. No one was there. He went up the stairs.

One room was up there. Sounds wafted through the thin door. Hushed voices and gunfire. That was the place. Sully felt the aggression building in his body like an electric charge ready to break free — the clouds before lightening struck. His muscles were strung out, ready to snap into action. His grip tightened.

Sully burst through the door. Four people were inside. The person facing him opened fire. Sully dropped his weight to the floor. As Sully opened fire, the other people turned to face him. Shots echoed around the room. The wall behind him was blasted white. A few bullets went past him, and a few went through his legs. Until the bullets stopped flying, the pain was minuscule.

Rough Neck was trying to get through. “All wrapped up. How are things on your end Sully?”

“Sully?”

The sound of boots filled Sully’s head. The cavalry was there. The medic got to him. Medicine was injected through his veins. They took him down the stairs in a litter. The fire had gone out. They loaded up Sully in the back seat. A bottle of fluids hung above his head. Sully didn’t remember much from the blood loss. He was in and out for days.

Sully woke up in a military hospital somewhere in Germany. The room was empty and stark white. The sun came in through slits in the blinds and fell across the floor.

Nothing happened for what seemed like hours. Then his wife came in, filling the room with her cool smelling perfume. Sully was the happiest person in the world for a minute there.

“Sully.”

“Where have they been hiding you away?”

“That’s what you’re going to say?”

“Get over here.”

“I was so scared, Sully.”

“It was nothing Kate.”

“There you go again.”

“This will be the last time I ever leave you.”

“Bet on it, Mister. We need you.”

The experience could’ve taken Sully away from his wife forever. In the end, it brought them together again in a tiny hospital room somewhere in Germany.

GK

How to get Better as a Writer: The Truth

There are a few things that worked for every writer

There’s no easy way to become a great writer.

There are ways to get better that have worked for other people.

1. Read in your genre.

You discover what exactly you’re trying to write.

It gives you a rolodex of techniques writers use to accomplish things.

Options you have with plot.

You can start in the middle and tell us the rest.

Start at the end and tell us everything.

Duex Ex Machina

Introduce the character that saves everyone from the beginning.

Describe a characters face.

A.) Have another character describe the protagonist.¹

B.) Wipe the characters memory so they discover their own face alongside you.²

C.) Have the character in a disassociated state looking in the mirror.³

D.) Have them wonder how that face can stand for the complex person they are.⁴

E.) Have a beautiful person describe how sentiments of beauty feel.

they’d tell me how pretty I was — but that comment really said nothing about me — Emma Lindsay

Understand of the rules behind those methods.

Describing a persons face.

Looking in the mirror describes vanity.

Otherwise, set up a situation where it’s natural to think about how you look.

That is the benefit of a writer reading books.

2.) Writing is the purpose of a writer.

There is no better way to get good at something than doing it often and for many years.

Writing is the only thing that will make you a better writer.

3.) Get feedback: the input guiding you how to write.

Writing for yourself has it’s benefits.

Writing for others came be far more rewarding.

Writing in an easily digestible form is impossible without feedback.

You can’t read your own writing without letting bias in.

Getting an interested outside opinion is the easiest way to figure out what you are doing well, and what needs work.

With that information, you can direct your efforts to correct your mistakes and capitalize on your strengths.

Editing your own work is the deliberate practice of a writer.

When you hit 10,000 hours of rewriting, you’ll be a skilled writer — Venkatesh Rao

Editing gets you to see what you’ve written from a position of reflection and optimization.

You see mistakes made and errors missed.

Editing is when you improve and grow.

Editing makes a huge difference. If it doesn’t, you aren’t doing it right.

That’s the writing process.

It has to be repeated again and again throughout your writing journey.

That’s the work of the writer. Used over and over for years and months will make you a great writer.

That’s all there’s to it.

Writing, editing, getting feedback aren’t the hard things.

Doing battle by choosing to write day after day, going on despite the rejection a writer faces, choosing writing above more socially acceptable things, and finishing.

Then starting again.

As much as we want a secret that we are missing, a secret to success — it doesn’t exist without the work of writing.

There’s a caveat here.

Some strategies help make you a better writer.

1.) Write every day.

Writing at least 300 words a day.

Start small.

I will think what to write every single day.

I will write something every single day.

Meeting this goal should be doable, but not too easy as well.

Starting to meet these goals turns writing from something fun you do when you have time into something that’s a required part of your day to feel happy.

2.) Write things you aren’t ready to write.

Some ideas are scary to write out.

A skill, understanding of the world, or writing ability isn’t quite good enough.

That’s where the possibility of growth lies.

Doing something hard puts you in a situation were stagnation means failure.

The only way to succeed is to grow.

Choose something challenging that isn’t so hard it crushes your motivation.

Repeated failure is a motivation crusher.

Success and growth keep you coming back day after day.

It’s hijacking your reward system to work for you instead of being led around by it.

3.) Take breaks from writing.

Writing can’t be forced.

Sit at your desk writing until the ideas stop flowing.

Take a short break.

Check facebook or whatever then return to writing.

Those things make a great writer.

GK

Defeating Anxiety: How to Write Awesome Content without Fear

Getting past the anxiety of writing.

Writing awakens your insecurities.

It’s logical.

Writing is a solitary activity. Other people aren’t going to constantly validate or demean your writing. People need that to stay in the game.

Without feedback your insecurities have free rein.

It’s like how you imagine seeing shapes or colors with your eyes closed. There’s nothing there, but something appears. That apparition is from the lack of sensory perception. There’s nothing to see except interference.

Getting feedback from another person or even yourself helps.

Reading over what you’ve written opens your eyes to what’s really there.

In a vacuum of perception, your fears, anxieties and insecurities take over.

Battling Anxiety

1. Before sitting down to write.

Follow your routine.

2. In the process of writing.

Read something you’ve written before that you know is good. Truth scares away anxiety.

3. After you’re done writing.

Ask someone you trust to read it and give you feedback. Don’t be blind to your successes or your improvement.

Perfection doesn’t exist.

Striving for perfection leaves you stranded.

Too scared to try or too scared to move on to something else that could work better.

The goal here is improvement.

Improving is growth. That’s all you want.

Unattainable goals like perfection sap away your motivation.

No matter how hard I try, my goal doesn’t get closer, so why should I even try.

Something achievable keeps you coming back each day.

Coming back day after day and putting in the work separates a great writer from a writer lost in the crowd.

GK

Don’t be a Slave to the Writing Process

Figure out your writing process. Don’t follow one blindly.

There are methods or a “process” that a writer uses.

You’ll be questioned about process if you ever get anything published in any meaningful way. But process can’t be transplanted from writer to writer. It’s something you have to discover for yourself.

Ray Bradbury wrote about his process.¹

  1. Make lists of what he’s thinking, short one to two word phrases.
  2. Find something that has a story behind it and write a lyric poem.
  3. Keep going as lyric poem turns into prose.

Following that process doesn’t work for me.

  1. I can’t write poetry.
  2. I can’t keep lists, because I barely have enough time to write as is.

My method is wildly different.

  1. Meditate daily.
  2. Come up with ideas when inspiration strikes or meditation leads me there.
  3. Run through everything I plan to write again in a meditative state.
  4. Sit down and type very slowly. That’s as fast as I can type.

That process isn’t going to work if your lived experience is different than mine.

Writing is an individualized act.

The product is generally recognized, but there are umpteenth ways to arrive there.

You’ll have varying success with everything you try.

It speaks to how difficult writing is.

You need to discover the process that best suits you.

It’ll be a mixed bag of the processes out there that no other writer uses to the letter.

Things like this are best figured out when you try things, everything you can find within reason until something gets you writing to the best of your ability.

It’ll be something close to who you are deep inside your soul.

Maybe you’re from the meditation camp or the poetry camp.

Whatever works is your process.

Resources

  1. Bradbury, Ray. Zen in The Art of Writing (p. 11-12). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

GK

Don’t be the Odd Writer Out in the Cold

How to be different without being too different as a writer.

Write something that people expect.

Follow the rules of genre gleaned by reading extensively in your genre. Have characters, stories, or settings that are familiar to the reader.

People need to connect with your story from the first line.

Once you have the reader invested in your story, it can show us something different.

  1. Your answer to a common problem
  2. Your plot twist
  3. The thing that sets you apart — your take — the thing that makes this piece worthwhile to read.

Moving too soon into what makes you special as a writer raises the barrier to entry for your readers.

Writing’s true value comes from readers.

If you write from far left field, it alienates the reader.

They never connect with what you written. Engagement isn’t there or the reader for that matter.

It doesn’t matter how well you’ve written something without readers.

Getting your foot in the door is getting harder by the day.

Anyone that wants a website can get one. Anyone can publish a book. Anyone can post a video on Youtube. The vast amount of content out there drowns out good content.

There needs to be something better about your piece.

Something that is relevant to the reader. It could be a character that they see themselves in. A place they’ve been before. Something they’ve done before.

Once they are hooked you can go your own way.

Things can’t change so much that you lose the readers trust, but you have some room.

Connect with your readers lived experience.

GK

Vulnerability for a Genuine Connection with your Reader

The advantage of letting people in through writing.

Connection is a scarce resource.

New ways of connecting like social media, the Twitters and Facebooks of the world simulate connection without delivering.

It’s time to return to what worked in the past, writing.

The opportunity for deep connection is slipping away. Reading is the only way to get that back.

Connecting with your reader is the purpose of publishing writing.

Connection is the purpose of a human life.

It’s the innate spark that has driven everything good we’ve ever done. Writing, scientific discovery, and cooperation are manifestations of that desire.

Being alone is one of the most painful things we can experience.

As writers, we’re in a unique position to fill that need of connection.

Being vulnerable is how you make that happen.

Connection requires the strength to be vulnerable — letting people into your life with the possibility of getting hurt.

That’s one of the things a writer must overcome to connect with readers.

The process goes something like this.

The people reading your work feel close to you.

Readers open their heart and soul to you, because you have already done the same.

Then your message gets across to be interrogated and verified.

If the message pans out, the reader interrogates their life with it.

We’re wired to seek out connection.

Being vulnerable is how you get there.

GK

Repackage your Truth to Write Something Great

The reason to “write what you know”

Write what you’ve lived.

Passion and motivation accrue when your writing something you believe to be. Your lived experience is a powerful tool that gives you insight where few others have it. Because each life is different and everyone is slightly different, we come at things from different perspectives.

People read to find insight about human nature.

That’s why fiction and memoirs sell as well as they do.

Share what you know better than anybody else.

People want truth, and truth comes from life. The life you’ve lived means something no matter how you’ve repackaged it.

Fiction shows a truth about life by changing the situation.

Making the facts stand out like they never could in real life. Sometimes real life can do that too.

You can’t choose your life

You sure can choose characters, a setting, and a plot that shows your truth.

Writing on Medium (where this originally appeared)

Personal stories of facing adversity do really well. That’s the focus of Medium at this point. Fiction is hidden in some back corner.

People come here for stories about people changing

Being true to yourself does really great here, because the community is supportive in a way few places are across the web. Medium is growing a lot still. That has to mean something. Sharing stories of life, of your truth bring people to you. That’s the story Medium tells us.

That’s a formula many prolific writers on Medium employ.

They write personal stories and other types of posts like poetry, fiction, thought pieces, and interviews. Like Meg, Abby Norman, and E Price — the examples I remember off the top of my head.

Put your truth out there and people will come.

GK