Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Guest Post: Frances Pauli: Writing War

I'm pleased as punch to have Frances Pauli here to talk about her new, wonderful book, Dogs of War: Vertigo.


I grew up with a father who was a Vietnam vet. He didn’t discuss it, didn’t like to talk about it, but it was there just the same. He liked to watch war documentaries too, and we hated them. I could not stand the boredom of long Sundays full of black and white non-fiction military programs.

Hindsight is a funny thing.

Well, we didn’t care for his watching the news either. Most kids don’t. I get it. It’s scary and it makes you feel like you can’t change anything. That’s why it’s so important to watch. Nobody tells you this, but enough build-up of that feeling is exactly what makes people get mad, stand up, and go change things. It’s true.

But I digress.

The war thing drove me nuts. If war was so awful, why was it always on the television? I ignored it for the most part, I breezed through history classes because of strong memorization skills more than any real interest in history. (Other than ancient stuff—that shit’s cool, right?) I grew up and lost my dad and started my own family and…wrote a war book.

Wait. What?

It’s true. I wrote a war story and it’s my favorite book yet. I’m still not entirely sure how it happened.

I spent a lot of time researching the book too, and that meant…you guessed it, lots of watching war documentaries. Not just tolerating them either, not getting through them, but actually enjoying the story of war. I became fascinated with it, in fact, and I still am.

What is the one thing everyone tells you is the most important thing about a story? Okay, it differs from expert to expert, but most of them will put conflict somewhere near the top. Most of them, in fact will put it at number one. Conflict. Tension on every page, as Donald Maass so succinctly puts it. Some would say that without conflict there is no story and war is, by definition, conflict.

It is heroism and complications. It is tragedy and horror and beauty all at the same time. It is, basically, stuffed full of story material provided you find an angle that appeals to you. I found that angle with my dogs.

When I discovered a picture of WW1 soldiers and their dogs in an AKC magazine, I was hooked. It didn’t even take long enough for me to blink, which is a good thing cause I was staring and couldn’t have blinked if I wanted to. I knew in that instant that I had to have their story. Not only that, I wanted to tell it.

And once I started down that road, I found more stories and more. That is the beauty of my profession, of tracking a story wherever it leads you. In this case, it led me to Vertigo and to the next two books at least. Because there is way too much story here to contain in one volume, and I am very grateful for the chance to let this one unfold.


 A modern day accountant with a level head and her feet firmly planted
in ordinary reality, Genevieve doesn’t believe in past lives, demons
or true love. All of which seems like a perfectly practical approach
to life until the thing that killed her in World War One decides it’s
time to try again…

 Genevieve Oliver doesn’t break the law. She doesn’t take risks, and
she definitely doesn’t believe in anything weird. So getting pulled
over for speeding on the way to pick up her new dog wasn’t exactly on
her to do list. Even more surprising, the cop who shows up at her
window seems familiar. She’s never seen him before, and yet, just
looking at the man makes her want to cry. But Viv has her head on
straight. She shakes off the encounter and heads to the dog breeder
only to have an old magazine photo trigger a full blown, past life
flashback. Not only do the soldiers in the picture look like her and
her mysterious cop, she remembers them, a memory that holds as much
danger as it does passion.

 Now Viv is bouncing between two lives and being stalked by something
evil in both of them. As the love story of two soldiers unfolds, her
own heart opens for a man who may not even be available. Not that she
has time to worry about minor details. If she can’t figure out the
demon’s identity fast, Viv could lose more than just her life. She
could lose everything she never believed in.


She’d messed up the search. The article had it wrong, she was
certain. The soldiers and dogs in her photo were French. They had
to be. Plus, searching for Belgian dog soldiers hadn’t netted her a
thing. She’d also tried Red Cross dogs, but came up with far too
many pages to sort, even when she specified images only. Most of
the shots she found were contemporary, rescue dogs from recent
disasters and modern warfare.
Tonight, she’d try France.
First, she had a puppy to get to know. Paula recommended
letting her girl settle in the first night, and she’d managed to resist
the urge to smother the poor thing. She’d carried the pup out into
the backyard three times during the night, and resisted bringing
her into bed the few times she whined, but otherwise she’d done
her best to respect the dog’s privacy. Now, however, they needed
to get going on that bonding, and the way Viv saw it, her pup
needed a name.
She parked herself, cross-legged, in the center of the living
room floor with a tub of liver treats in her lap. The pup lay in the
kennel doorway, paws crossed and ears up. She’d squirreled half
the squeaky toys into the bed, buried a few in the couch cushions,
and currently held her favorite between needle sharp puppy teeth.
She eyed Viv suspiciously and bit down until the toy squealed.
Her skin color leaned toward copper, with a few scattered
light spots under her neck and chest. It was much softer than
Tortugas, like chamois. Viv had discovered as much during the
brief contact taking the little girl out for her runs, but aside from
the rare tentative sniff, the dog hadn’t shown any interest in letting
her touch it otherwise.
The liver treat had her attention though. Viv held it forward
and waited while the black nose twitched. The toy squeaked one
last time and then dropped to the hardwood. Both front paws
reached, and a low whine came from the pup’s throat. Her tail
thumped against the blankets, and she scooted forward on her belly.
Just like Champ did on the barbed wire course.
Ice slid down Viv’s spine. The liver dropped from her fingers,
and she fumbled for it with a racing heart. Just like Champion. Where
the hell had that come from? She held the treat out again, but as
the pup belly-crawled across the floor, she saw a black face, one
with feathery hair and both ears erect and listening. And coils of
spiked wire just above the mud.
“It’s okay,” Viv crooned. “You can do it.” She had to stop
herself from saying, boy. This pup was younger, and scared. She
had no hair and she wanted a treat, not a medal. A slow inhale, a
moment of calm, and Viv knew that. She sat on her living room
floor in 2013. Not France, no war, and no LePiu looking over her
shoulder. Where had that name just come from?
“Here girl, come on,” she whispered, and half hoped for the
images to return. She wanted to know about them—about Champ
and Pieter and Marcel. And LePiu.
She’d wanted this dog for years. This dog. The beautiful, soft
little nudist creeping across the room—so close now she could
feel the puppy breath on her fingers. She held perfectly still and
looked into the watery brown eyes. This dog. But Champion had
looked at him like that.
Viv saw it. He lay on his side in the mud, and the unnatural
pose alone was enough to tell him he’d fallen, that he’d suffered
a wound. The pain just finalized that verdict. It spread like a cold
ache through his midsection. He reached the one arm out, and
saw his own fingers stretching toward the dog. Champion. The
enemy hadn’t noted Champ yet, and the black dog crept like a
shadow toward his pistol. It lay inches beyond his fingertips. Come
on, Champ. A few more feet.
Someone rolled him over. Fire tore outward from the wound,
but it wasn’t nearly so horrible as the face snarling inches from his
own. The skin stretched tight over prominent bones, and the eyes
were two huge sockets, black pits filled with nothing.
Viv screamed. The puppy exploded away from her, all claws
and scrambling for purchase on the wood. The tub of treats flew
to the side, and all she saw was the sparsely haired tail disappearing
behind her couch. Her heart banged against her ribs. The eyes of
whatever thing she’d seen still glared at her. She could see them
through her living room. They burned into the back of her mind
and refused to go away.

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