I had already started work on a Christmas/Chanukah crime story, planning to submit it to Wolfmont Press for what I assumed would be the publisher’s fifth annual anthology of holiday crime stories to benefit Toys for Tots, when I learned that Wolfmont had a different agenda this year: creating an anthology of crime stories on military themes, to benefit a charity called Homes for Our Troops.
Any short story writer can write a holiday story, and nobody hesitates to contribute to a charity that gives toys to needy kids. A lot of writers, who, like me, had contributed to Wolfmont’s previous charitable anthologies sighed and capped their virtual pens, saying, “I can’t write a military story.” At first, I said the same. I thought I’d have to give Wolfmont a miss this year. And then, as so often happens after I say, “I can’t,” I got an idea.
I’ve since applied the technique for generating a story that I used on this occasion to other calls for submission on topics I don’t know much about. It’s simple enough: I said to myself, “I don’t know much about the military, but is there any aspect of the military that I do know something about?” The answer was, “Yes.” As a mental health and addictions professional who’s spent twenty-five years working with alcoholics and addicts in all walks of life, from celebrities and CEOs to the homeless, I know plenty about substance-abusing Vietnam vets and post-traumatic stress. And so my character, Larry, was born: an alcoholic Vietnam vet who works in a bar, is constantly on guard against his memories, avoids relationships, and thinks he has no future—and no choice but to go on exactly the way he is. I called the story “Choices.”
I’ve spent most of my life among people who are not particularly sympathetic to the military in general. On the other hand, just about everyone, regardless of political position, feels compassion for those who come home with severe disabilities. Homes for Our Troops addresses the dilemma of veterans who need housing that is accessible and adapted to their needs: doorways wide enough to fit a wheelchair through, for example.
The more I heard about Homes for Our Troops, the more I liked it. They go into a disabled veteran’s community and engage the people of that community in building a house for that vet. They supply the funds and special expertise, but everybody helps. It’s a lot like an old-fashioned barn raising. By the time the house is ready, the vet and his or her family know their neighbors and have become a warmly welcomed part of their community. Well worth the price of a $12 book of terrific short stories, don’t you think?
You can buy Murder to Mil-Spec at The Digital Bookshop in print and e-book formats, online at Amazon in print or Kindle, or online in print format at Barnes & Noble. The authors will also have copies to sign and sell as they appear around the country. For example, Barb Goffman and I will be reading from our stories at the public library in Reston, VA on December 7. The other talented authors, who have rung a dazzling variety of changes on the theme, include Terrie Farley Moran, Dorothy B. Francis, Big Jim Williams, Lina Zeldovich, Charles Schaeffer, Howard B. Carron, Brendan Dubois, Janis Patterson, S.M. Harding, and Diana Catt.