Posts Tagged ‘Kelly Thompson’

I’ve been a student of World War II since junior high school. Strategy, armament, location, cause, aftermath – there’s a lot to learn and much to remember. At one time I could identify all the aircraft used by any country in World War II by sight alone. But all of those things, while essential to history, can’t compare to the true lessons of war – the ones you learn from the soldiers themselves.

I am a huge “Band of Brothers” fan. If you’re shrugging your shoulders and shaking your head right now, you obviously are not. Let me help you out. In 1992, Stephen Ambrose wrote “Band of Brothers”, a book that recounted the World War II experiences of the men of Easy Company, paratroopers with the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment in the 101st Airborne Division of the U.S. Army. Ambrose researched his book by interviewing Easy Company veterans who gave him a personal view of their war, not just the fighting but the friendships, the heroism and the hardship, the insanity and the normalcy. The story of soldiers.

In 2001, thanks to Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks (and honestly, if you want to get something produced, they would be the ones to do it), HBO aired a 10 part miniseries based on Ambrose’s book. Though I’d read “Band of Brothers” not long after it was published and loved it, I didn’t see the miniseries for the simplest of reasons – we didn’t have HBO. I was working part-time in a video store when the DVDs finally came out and I brought them home, the whole set, one rainy Sunday afternoon and spent until early Monday morning watching the entire miniseries from start to finish. Eventually, I had to take them back (one missing DVD is not unusual but a wandering box set is a little tough to ignore) but now that I own the set, I still watch it, frequently.

Now that you have some grasp of what I’m talking about, you should know that “BoB” fans are a serious bunch. They know things, and I mean really KNOW things, like all the veterans’ names, who’s passed away and when, the locations for all the battles, what actor played who in the miniseries and what those actors are doing now, 10 years after the program first aired. Which brings me to the real point of this post.

This Sunday, Aug. 21, 2011, in celebration of the 10-year anniversary of the miniseries, nearly a dozen of the show’s actors will be parachuting out of a plane over Devon, England to raise funds for the Richard D. Winters Leadership Project. Those monies will go toward the building of a monument in Normandy to recognize the leadership of officers like the late Major Winters who led the way on D-Day, June 6, 1944. The event, called “Jumping for Heroes”, was organized by Scottish actor/writer Ross Owen and has already drawn donations from all over the world. But it can always use more. Whether you’re a “BoB” fan or not, recognize the cause for what it is…a worthy one. To find out more, visit or look for Jumping for Heroes on Facebook and Twitter.

To the actors and others who are jumping this weekend, good luck and Godspeed. And to the men of Easy Company who inspired them, thank you for your service. None can be forgotten if there are those who will remember.

If you’re looking for more great soldiers’ stories, here are a couple to grab: “The Good War“ by Louis “Studs“ Terkel, “Nam” by Mark Baker, “The Things They Carried” by Tim O’Brien, and “The Long Road Home” by Martha Raddatz


Word to My Mother

Posted: August 15, 2011 in Life
Tags: , , , ,

Six years ago today my mother died of cancer at the age of 62.

Five years ago today I drove to Minneapolis to do a 60-mile cancer walk in her honor.

Four years ago today I read every saved letter and email I had from her and cried.

Three years ago today I got drunk in a bar while toasting to her memory.

Two years ago today I looked through old pictures of her and smiled.

One year ago today I wrote a story about her that’s just for me.

Today I still miss her.

Tomorrow I’ll miss her more.

In the summer of 1981 while on our annual family vacation, my sister, for no apparent reason, began to speak in French.

It happened on a streetcar in San Francisco and only my parents and I heard it. When it became clear that she was speaking to me, I answered her in kind. She had two years of high school French to my one which really didn’t matter because what followed was a nonsensical exchange of whatever French phrases we could come up with. It was funny, harmless. That is, until THEY got on the streetcar.

They were on vacation, too, a family of three. They also spoke French. The “Hi, my name is Pierre and I’m from France” kind of French. Being unaware of this, we continued our babbling until an unfamiliar voice asked, “Parlez-vous francais?”

We should have owned up then. Should have but didn’t. “Oui,” we answered.

Suddenly they were chirping at us like caffeine-fueled hummingbirds, too fast for us to catch more than an occasional random word. We looked to our parents for help, and got nothing but benign smiles that said, “Look at those poor idiot children. Where could their parents be?”

When my sister finally managed to convey to this family that we weren’t actually French, they didn’t seem surprised by nor angry at our deception. They just smiled a lot. The moral of this story, boys and girls, is obvious: don’t pretend to be something you’re not. Unless you’re a writer.

In a recent post, blogger Jeff Goins (whom I read frequently at, said “Writers write. Posers talk about writing.” While I agree with the deeper meaning of his statement, that to be a writer, you should actually WRITE, on face value, I have to argue that some posers ARE writers.

Writing fiction gives you an opportunity to be anybody you choose. In the two years I’ve been actively writing fiction, I’ve been a young widow turned international assassin, a 60-something woman battling cancer, a man on death row making amends, a kindergartener planning her wedding, a corporate drone who loses her job and finds herself. I’ve “posed” as many things I’m not and make no apology for it. Because that’s what storytellers do. Who do YOU want to be today, poser? I say pick one or two or a crowd of characters and laissez le bon temps rouler!

RESOURCE ALERT: How does truth serum work? Can you determine the time of death from a corpse’s body temperature? What happens when you expose a person to the vacuum of space? “Forensics and Fiction” by D.P. Lyle can answer all those questions and more. It’s just one of a number of great resource books he’s written, must-haves if you’re writing a whodunit or thriller. Writes great novels, too. Check him out at

 On August 1, 2007, the Interstate 35W bridge in Minneapolis, Minnesota collapsed during the evening rush hour, sending vehicles and their occupants plummeting toward the Mississippi River. Thirteen people died, 145 more were injured. It was a Wednesday; for some reason I remember that clearly. The news footage that night and for days after was filled with images of mangled steel bridge supports, the crushed shells of vehicles, rescue crews pulling victims, living and dead, out of the water and off of the crumbled sections of the bridge. I remember calling my friend Lynnette, who lives near the Cities, to make sure neither she nor anyone in her family had been crossing the bridge on the way home that night. The odds that they would be were astronomical, I’m sure, but calls like that are something we do when people who are important to us are in the proximity of tragic events.

On August 1, 2011, a memorial to the 35W bridge collapse was unveiled. It’s called the I-35W Remembrance Garden and it sits along West River Parkway about a quarter-mile upstream from where the tragedy occurred. The memorial contains a granite wall with a message in stainless steel letters that reads:

“Our lives are not only defined by what happens, but by how we act in the face of it, not only by what life brings us, but by what we bring to life. Selfless actions and compassion create enduring community out of tragic events.”

Two days after the unveiling, the memorial wall was vandalized and that message was reduced to a cryptic jumble of words because some disrespectful idiot pried 22 of the letters off the wall. Stupid, pointless, inexcusable. No reason could justify such action. The remaining letters have since been removed because the incomplete message was confusing to visitors. The builder of the memorial hopes to have new letters made and the memorial repaired later this month.

I have a thing for memorials and monuments. I am proud to have worked on the dedication events for South Dakota’s World War II, Korean War and Vietnam War Veterans Memorials. When I travel, I visit memorial sites when I have the opportunity. And several times a year, I make random donations to small communities who are raising funds for local memorials whether they be for veterans, founders, or in celebration of a community surviving 100 years of existence on the Midwestern prairie.

Memorials are erected in honor of the famous and the nameless, in recognition of victories and losses, to celebrate histories and inspire futures. But they all have the same purpose: to make us remember. So to the I-35W Memorial vandal, when they catch you (and they will), how will you be remembered? As the jerk who defaced a memorial to the dead and a tribute to the living.

Have a memorial or monument that has special meaning to you? I’d love to hear about it!

I voiced my first radio commercial at 19 for Marlene’s Intimate Apparel. They sold lingerie (surprise). The script was heavy with Fredericks of Hollywood terms and I sounded like a 12-year-old asthmatic reading it – high-pitched, breathy and impossibly young. I doubt I helped Marlene sell out of garter belts and bustiers.

I was an intern that summer in the station newsroom. I worked early mornings reading news on-air and evenings covering meetings, interviewing, writing, and editing in the hours in-between. It was interesting, sometimes exciting, and good writing practice, and I must have liked it because later I became a radio news director and a news editor for United Press International.

One morning as I was perched on my little stool in the corner of the newsroom, I noticed that across the office there seemed to be an area where the lights glowed a little brighter and people looked a little happier and every once in awhile, you caught the sound of laughter in the air.

“What’s over there?” I asked Fritts, the news director.

He stubbed out his cigarette in the ashtray by the microphone, rolled his eyes and sneered, “Production department. Ad copy writers. Bah!”

Hmmm, ad copy. How do you get to write that? I wondered. For the next few days, I watched and waited, looking for an opportunity to casually stroll over to the production director and say, “I’m a writer, you know. Got anything you want me to, uh, WRITE?”

Then came Marlene and her amazing underwear, my golden ticket to the Shangri-la across the office. Gwen in the production department needed a new female voice for the ad and I was it. That one commercial, bad as it was, led to others. Though nobody told me I could, I began making small edits to the scripts I was recording, just a little tweak here and there. When they finally noticed, Gwen said, “Wanna just write one?” The lights overhead blazed with intensity and a chorus of angels (or custodians, whatever) began to sing and I answered, “Well, YEAH!”

Twenty-six years later, I still write and record commercials. I have no idea how many I’ve done over the years, easily thousands, I suspect. And it remains to be one of the sweetest writing gigs I’ve ever had because it’s the best of all writing worlds. It’s fact and fiction, drama and comedy, simplicity and complexity. And to quote the great Manfred Mann: “Mama, that’s where the fun is.”

Writing commercials is all about the hook and the promise. We hook you with a little tidbit about what makes this the most amazing product EVER. Then we reel you in the rest of the way with the promise of how you’ll be happier, richer, skinnier, more satisfied, less stressed, funnier, faster, smarter, BETTER, because you’ve made the decision not to live without it. The formula is the same no matter what you’re selling. People who listen to my radio show would say my favorite commercials to do are the funny ones and I do so love to do those (my God, there have been some great ones over the years!) but they’re not my favorites. That spot is reserved for the ads that make you think and feel.

Theater of the mind. That’s what radio is. The medium that makes your ears your eyes. Where the sounds of rushing water conjure the image of a peaceful stream or a destructive flood. The right song surrounds you in a carnival or a rock concert or a revival meeting. And the announcer’s voice moves you to save a couple dollars on your next purchase or spend a couple more on a worthy cause. THOSE are the best commercials to write.

I’m just an usher in the theater of the mind. I shine my flashlight down the aisle of possibility, lead you to your seat, quiet the riff-raff in the row behind you, and when you’re moved by the snack bar song to head to the lobby to get a little something, I’m there to open the door. Hoping you’ll pick up something sweet, salty or refreshing. Or maybe something more personal. I hear Marlene’s is having a big sale.

I’ll teach you to ignore me, Buddy thought. Grasping the rolled-up newspaper, he smacked Chuck smartly on the leg, causing him to yelp and jump.

Buddy glanced towards the kitchen and Chuck trotted obediently through the doorway, returning a moment later with a shiny metal food bowl which he laid on the floor at Buddy’s feet. His master murmured approvingly, once and then again, when Chuck returned a second time with the fraying rope toy they used to play tug-of-war.

Buddy dropped the newspaper on the rug and rolled over on his back. Rubbing the old dog’s belly, Chuck said, “Sorry, buddy, didn’t mean to forget you. Won’t happen again.”

You bet it won’t, Buddy said to himself. Because I’m top dog in this house.

Do parents wash their kids’ mouths out with soap anymore? That was a threat of my mother’s and my grandfather’s when I was growing up. I was very vocal as a kid, full of musings and opinions and anecdotes sometimes peppered with words that would make you think I spent an inordinate amount of time hanging out on the docks or in the back rooms of pool halls. Mouthy. That’s the technical term for it.

The soap thing was not just an idle threat. I only tasted Dove on my lips once and that’s all the farther the bar got because although I may have been mouthy, I wasn‘t stupid. When the scent of the soap in your nostrils is making your eyes water and the lather is close enough to lick without sticking your tongue out, that’s when you stop talking.

To answer my own question, based on the kind of language in books, movies, television, music and on the Internet these days, I’d say that a fresh bar of creamy solvent shaken menacingly at a young mouth would bring on more confusion than respect. We’re a world of blue streakers, we are.

I’m not a hypocrite about it; I can be as big a potty mouth as anybody, depending on crowd and circumstance. Unless the language is violently profane, it doesn’t even shock me all that much. The other night a friend and I were reading a blog so riddled with “that” kind of language that if my laptop had an audio censor function on it, it would have been dinging like a pinball machine nearing full-tilt. Yet at times, the writer had us laughing so hard we were crying, despite the profanity, because the comedy of his work was too great to ignore.

So, here’s the bigger question. Do movies, books, music, etc. use that language because that’s how people talk these days or do people talk like that because we see it, read it, and hear it all around us? And as a writer, if you want to appeal to a broad audience, does your work have to read like the bathroom wall of a broken-down beer joint that even the cops won’t go into?

If you draw a character so vividly that the reader can’t imagine them speaking without swearing and you put them in a situation in which only that kind of language makes sense, then yes. Profanity probably has its place. That doesn’t mean you should strive to write a book that has so many blacked-out lines in it that it resembles an aerial view of a rail yard but a good writer stays true to their story, even if it’s true blue. Readers who don’t mind profanity will read it. Readers who do mind either won’t read it or they’ll have a bar of soap handy when they do.