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Thursday, March 06, 2008

What Do You Call a Hall on a Ship?

I’m working on a military themed suspense book right now. It’s my third one featuring Navy characters, and the research at times seems endless. I wonder if I’ll ever get it right! That’s because I’m a landlubber, even though my Dad was a naval officer and my brother was a career Coast Guard officer.

So how have I gotten through three books about military personnel without knowing anything firsthand about the military? Four ways:

1. Ask people. My brother has helped me a lot with these books, but there have been times when I had to call in the big guns. No, not my nephew, Michael. He’s a Marine, but I don’t think he’s spent much time on ships. I was talking about the official public liaison in Washington, D.C. I didn’t know there was such a thing, so I called the local Navy recruiter. He told me who to call with my questions. And the lieutenant who dug up the answers for me was very pleasant and helpful.

2. If at all possible, try to get someone who served in the branch of the service you are writing about to preview your book. This isn’t always possible—don’t I know it! I’ve even offered to pay someone and somehow it didn’t work out. Oh, well. I fall back on:

3. Websites. The U.S. Navy’s official Websites are a lot of help. Uniforms, ships, statistics of all sorts...from how long the runway on an aircraft carrier is to what a seaman has in his sea bag. But they don’t tell you everything. Like when does an ensign salute a commander? Or what do you call a hallway on a ship. Okay, I asked my brother that one. Passageway! Duh. (And stairs are ladders, in case you’re wondering).

4. Books. This is the biggie for me. I can browse over them any time I want, carry them to appointments with me, snatch a few pages before going to sleep. The books I’ve found most helpful in writing this series include the following:

*A Civilian’s Guide to the U.S. Military, by Barbara Schading. Good for basic info on all branches of the service, but again, it won’t tell you everything. It will tell you what the ranks, pay scales, insignia, and uniforms are for each branch; official songs, things like that; organization of each branch and equipment used, its history and how to join. It has a chapter on special forces and one on the Geneva Conventions. A large section tells you what all those military acronyms mean (well, maybe not all, but a lot). The glossary and equipment section are very helpful.

*Ultimate Special Forces, by Hugh McManners. Oh, yeah! This big coffee table book is really cool! Color photos of worldwide special forces including the United States’s Green Berets, Navy SEALs, Army Rangers, Marines, airborne forces, and Delta Force. Foreign elite units include the British SAS and Royal Marines, Israeli paratroopers, Russian Spetsnaz, French Foreign Legion, Australian SAS, German GSG-9, and French GIGN. There’s lots more, like photos of weapons these units use, and historical notes, selection and tactical procedures. Lots of great stuff here.

*Deadly Fighting Skills of the World, by Steve Crawford. This large paperback is heavy on photos and drawings. You, too, can learn about ambushes, assassination, infiltration, night fighting, sabotage and booby traps, sniping, silent weapons, and much more. I’m afraid my 15-year-old son will find this book! He’s already a blue belt in karate. I’m not sure I want him to know how to take on armored pursuers or use a flamethrower. But it’s been great for my heroes and heroines.

*U.S. Army Combat Skills Handbook, brought to us by the Department of the Army. This book is supposedly what real soldiers use, but it looks like a trade paperback (large format) to me. LOTS of diagrams. Learn how to dig—er, that’s build—a fighting position (looks like a trench to me). Lots of nitty gritty info on camouflage, moving in combat situations, intelligence and counterintelligence, first aid, mines, demolition, tracking, survival. . .a lot of things the others don’t cover. Stuff like how to make a toothbrush and the fascinating (short) appendix on “Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape.” (Basically, do those things.) It’s sort of like a Boy Scout handbook with tanks.

*Navy SEALs, A History, by Kevin Dockery, and Warrior Elite and The Finishing School, by Dick Couch. Okay, I haven’t actually used these much yet, but they look good. If you are going to write about Navy SEALs, you probably need specific books like these. So far I haven’t written about SEALs, but I figure these books will give me the flavor of naval special forces. And if you’re writing about other branches or special services, go hunting on Amazon for books specifically about that group. It’s amazing what’s out there if you look!

Now, go write something. That’s an order.

Susan (http://www.susanpagedavis.com/)


Blogger Susan said...

My late husband was a Navy man. Their term for going to sleep: racking out. I don't know if the usage is current, but thought I'd pass it along.

5:41 PM  
Blogger Susan Page Davis said...

Nice to hear from another Susan. I've heard this one, too. Your bed on your ship is your rack. Oh, not on a cruise ship. then it's a berth, I think. I'm just glad they don't use hammocks anymore. :) God has blessed me with a retired Navy man with a sense of humor to help spot my glitches in my next book.

7:02 AM  

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