Thursday, May 24, 2012

Guest Post: I Slather Authenticity on Your Escapism by Rhi Etzweiler

Today, in keeping with the the theme of honoring the men and women in the various branches of the military that Nikki-O talked about yesterday, one of the best writers of soldiers in the M.M genre I know is here to talk about ...writing soldiers. Not just writing soldiers mind you, but writing soldiers... authentically.

Who is it?

Rhi Etzweiler.

You want authentic soldiers... you go to Rhi.


As you read thru the post, inserted is many a fab pic. Each pic is linked over to Rhi's Soldierporn blog, where you will find more info, stories, and the like. Such a fabulous blog. I highly recommend you check it out.

Now, with a huge thank you to Rhi, I'll shush up with my ramblings and give the blog over.

Welcome back Rhi! :D :D


I Slather Authenticity on Your Escapism

I don’t recall when I first discovered the M/M genre, but I do recall picking up a few romances that were supposed to be about military personnel. The combination of soldiers and romance definitely piqued my interest. And if they’d not been in electronic format on my laptop, holy shit I would’ve thrown them across the room in frustration. As it was, the walls of my living room could attest to more than a few strongly vocal rages.

There is nothing I find more disrespectful to those in uniform than presenting characters as military when all they truly are is a civilian wrapped in a secondhand camouflage field dress or a shiny set of Class A’s. They do it in the porn industry a good bit. And I managed to find the writers that translated that into M/M.

It goes for any character a writer portrays. There’s an expectation that it will be done with authenticity, if you (as the writer, or your publisher or editor or audience) hold yourself to any sort of quality standard.

And in most of the stories I’ve read, that uniform is little more than a prop. Inconsequential, quickly discarded without a second thought in the next scene. Or, it’s their job like being a lawyer or a banker or a used car salesman, and when they come home and take the uniform off they’re just themselves again, derpderpderp.

I don’t write them that way, and I never will.

I was raised in a military culture, the child of an officer in the Armed Forces. It’s difficult to say, this is what is missing. To point to a specific detail that’s lacking or portrayed inaccurately. Military of all stripes unwind the same way everyone else does. I believe they do it as they do much of everything else they do—full throttle, no holds barred.

There is little room for partial commitment or casual engagement with them. It’s the dedication, the drive, and a hundred other intangible qualities. Ethics, honor, respect—the values they hold dear (and I don’t mean of the religious sort, either).

There is inherently something different in a person who wears a military uniform. Here in the US, those people have signed a contract or commission and sworn an oath, both of which are legally binding. Their boss is the President, and their duty is to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic. Sure, it’s their job and they get paid to do it. But the monumental size of that task… It demands more than just a “strolling in late, yawning over a steaming latte, think I’ll play hooky and take in a round of golf today” attitude.

It’s more than that, though. These individuals have been torn down and built back up, have in all probability experienced and survived situations that the average civilian secretly aspires to never encounter. They have survived and carried on, demonstrating resilience and strength that few possess.

Other countries maintain an equivalent level of dedication. As one person put it, “I’m not American, but every soldier shares the same base ideals. It’s in our blood.”

That is not to say that the people in those uniforms are automatons of death and destruction without feeling or independent thought. Far from it.

But I abhor the portrayal of them as weak in mind or spirit or body, when the majority of them are anything but that. That’s not to say that they don’t cry, or express their softer emotions – true strength lies in balance, in embracing and accepting and expressing; a time for everything.

And when it’s not the time, you acknowledge it, set it aside, and move the fuck on.

“The only easy day was yesterday.”

“Never leave a [man] behind.”

These are not the mantras of brainwashed zombies. They are philosophies that embody psychological resilience, a warrior spirit, and unwavering ethics. That is the type of character I see a soldier having, and that is how I portray them. Not to say that they don’t have their flaws.

Not to say that the things they see, and survive, don’t accumulate, don’t begin to take their toll.

There’s definitely a world of room for wiggling, if you look for it. The dark corners of the psyche. The flaws that only compound over time like the faint, hairline crack that causes the stone to finally give beneath increasing pressure and weight. The burden of survivor’s guilt that plagues most combat veterans. The loss of their comrades, the memories of their fallen brothers, these things remain. They live on unforgotten, a wound that scars lightly at best.

If you want a glimpse of the authenticity I’m referring to, watch the National Geographic documentary film titled “Restrepo.”
Watch “Hell & Back Again.”
Or check out Operation: Zeus.

Yes, soldiers are simple human beings.

But they are not civilians. And there’s a world of difference. I chose to portray military characters as I do in my stories for that reason—so few of the stories I found possessed authenticity in the character portrayals and that lack challenged me. Not all my soldiers wear uniforms. But the warrior spirit is there. I cannot write them any other way than authentically. I have a responsibility to do so, born of respect for those that my characters represent.

All things in perspective.


  1. Thank you for the post Rhi!! I have been affectionately called an Army brat for the bulk of my life. My father was a Tank Commander and retired after 22 years in, which included two tours in Vietnam. Although he retired when I was 11 years old he is still the same man that he was while actively serving. It is in his presence and personality. Deeply ingrained. Not trained. It is who he is and will always be. I wouldn't change him one bit.



  2. *waves*
    Hey!...Did I write that? *blinks*
    Don't mind me, I'm staring at the #soldierporn for a few minutes.

    Thanks for having me, Amara. I love it when I get to come and visit!

    @Kassandra Yeah, without a doubt--it forges & forms who and what they are, and it never leaves them. Glad you enjoyed the post!

    1. Lol. Why yes, yes you did. Fabulous post. :D

      And thanks for coming over to play blog. I always love having you. :)



Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...