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Tell Me - Danielle Ackley-McPhail

(Crossposted from Jennifer Brozek)

Danielle Ackley-McPhail is an author and editor I admire. I’ve shared a TOC with her, edited her, and been edited by her. Almost all of it has been military fiction. It’s always interesting to get an inside perspective on how people get into cultures they’ve not personally experienced.

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As a writer, there is nothing more gratifying than successfully immersing yourself into another psyche so outside of your own. In becoming another person…if only on paper…and having an audience believe in that character. Have them connect and empathize and even cry for that character. It is a humbling experience.

I recently wrote a story called “Brother” for the Defending the Future anthology, Dogs of War. My story is from the perspective of a soldier horribly scarred by war, both physically and emotionally. That soldier has retreated inside of himself and used the extremes of his military psychological training to defend the tattered remains of his spirit.

It probably will not surprise you—particularly if you know me—that I have never been to war. I have never been in the military. My closest connection is being the youngest child of a military man who fought in several wars, and was scarred by all of them. A child who never experienced the military lifestyle. Heck, by the time I was aware of my surroundings I barely experienced my father at all, not until I was much older. Though not consciously, I suppose you could say that my father was a template for my character. Now, looking back, I can see where the more subtle mindset and defenses my father had were amplified in this story. At the time of writing, though, all I had to draw on was the most basic understanding of the military mindset, post traumatic stress disorder, and a bit of research on the internet to flesh things out. And yet the words flowed. The character told his own story and showed me a glimpse of the trauma left by combat.

Apparently I have a very fertile imagination. Or perhaps I truly channeled some unnamed soldier I will never know beyond the words of my story, because I showed it to the soldiers I know. I showed it to medical personnel familiar with my topic. I’ve read it to audiences several times over. And each time I was humbled at the impact of my words.

This may sound like boasting, but please, be assured that is not so. I am in awe at the gift I have been given to touch people with words and as with anything given as a gift, I am not responsible for the outcome. What I have written in “Brother” is a product of inspiration that is beyond my control. It is not something I planned out to write. It was not something I could possibly write from my own experience. I have no doubt that creativity is touched by divine inspiration and I have learned that through my fiction I can be many people, to many people, and none of them have a single thing to do with who I really am. It is an amazing feeling to be given a gift like that, and to be fortunate enough to share it with the world. I certainly count my blessings and look forward to where my muse will lead me next.

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