Leveraging My Military Background for Magic by Starlight

Tia in Uniform. With her jet.

You may or may not know that I was in the Air Force, way back in the day. As evidence, here is a picture of me and my jet. I was a Crew Chief, which meant I took care of all the maintenance for this particular jet. Click to enlarge.

Crew Chiefs were also known as grease-monkeys and tire-kickers. And yes, I could use a grease gun. But kicking tires was not of much use. Kicking chocks out of the way of tires–well, I did that all the time. Maybe that action is where that nickname came from.

I have not written many stories that leverage my military background, although I have started quite a few. Most of them are science-fictiony, including one that takes place on an orbital flightdeck. Like most of my early stories, it suffered from a lack of plot.

But Magic by Starlight ended up drawing from my military background more than I expected. The ways are subtle, but they are there. Here are a few teasers

The Chain of Command

Woe be unto the airman (or soldier, or marine, or seaman) who frivolously violates the chain of command. The same sort of structure is in place in civilian jobs as well, but it has a special authority all its own in the military. If you attempt to go outside your chain of command, have a damned good reason. If there is a legitimate problem, it should be taken care of quickly.

I did exercise my chain of command rights once while in the Air Force, when my reporting official asked me out in front of the entire flight. And I turned him down in front of the entire flight with a flat no. I was furious. As soon as he went out the door, undoubtedly humiliated, I went straight to the master sergeant’s office and told him what happened. I had a new reporting official the next day.

I have never exercised my chain of command rights as a civilian. Why? I do not feel as well-protected. So while the chain of command has a fearsome reputation in the military, in my case, it worked well and I trusted it.

Tory trusts her own chain of command, but her case is not as straightforward as mine was. She has to gather evidence before she is ready to Face the Man.


The military loves chits. A chit is a disk of brass stamped with some bit of information. We used chits to check out tools. You would have a set of chits that belonged to you, each inscribed with a number. When you checked out a tool from the tool crib, you left one of your chits. You got the chit back when you returned the tool. I had a little snap-ring with 20 chits dangling from my uniform at all times while on the flightline.

In Magic by Starlight, there are two kinds of chits, identity chits and requisition chits.

Identity chits are dog tags. Since this is a pre-photography era, I made them big enough to put in a slide projector, and there is the bearer’s silhouette punched out of the middle of it. All around the silhouette is the bearer’s name, government agency, height, weight, hair and eye color, and identifying marks. All government agents have one, including police, intelligence, and the military.

Requisition chits are given to trusted agents, who, in turn, give them to trusted contacts who have been helpful and are owed some recompense. It identifies the bearer as someone who is owed a favor. Needless to say, they are rarely given out, and highly prized when they are, until redeemed.

Location Board

The Job Board. Luv those punch lables!

Click to enlarge. This is the job board from my old military flight shack. You can’t see all the details, and most of them are irrelevant here. But in the messages area, we would scrawl where we were with a grease pencil, if we had to leave the flight shack.

In Magic by Starlight, there is a location board with everyone’s name (as the job board has here), with checkmarks for places like “home”, other agency headquarters, and a fill-in-the-blank area.

The Atmosphere

Although my spies wear civilian garb, they are in kind of a military culture. They address each other by their last name, which Regency men did anyway, but Regency women certainly did not. Social titles are rare. There is a casual intimacy between men and women that has nothing to do with sex — more like a band of brothers sort of thing that is hard to explain. There is competition between different agencies. And there are books or regulations with green cloth covers.

I would not classify this novel as military fantasy by any means, but I certainly had a lot of fun drawing little details out of my prior military life and weaving them into the story.

18 Thoughts to “Leveraging My Military Background for Magic by Starlight”

  1. Loved the post. You had me at Regency. In the Army, we had sign-out boards as well. Tweeted.

    1. They MUST know where you are at all times, after all. Can you imagine how it must be these days?

      And THANK you for the tweet!

  2. Tia, this was a delightful trip down Memory Lane, although I was in the Navy. I loved hearing about your job and how you applied aspects of your military background to your book! I can’t wait to read it!

    Carry on! πŸ™‚

    1. Yes ma’am ! πŸ™‚

  3. Beth Treadway

    Remember being the Duty Officer. There WAS no escape! Had to be available at all times for all issues, no matter what they were.

    Can’t wait to read this!

    1. I totally forgot to include being a Duty Officer in this post! It is there! Here’s a snip:

      The hack took us out of the dark warrens of West End and into the lamplit sector where the Ministry Headquarters were located. We pulled into the ministry driveway and disembarked in silence. I followed Young through the double doors into a small lobby, where a lone duty officer took note of our entrance with a scratch of his pen. Beyond him, we passed through another doorway and entered the workroom.

  4. HI Tia, I loved the way you drew from your miltary experience. I tweeted and shared on facebook.

    1. Thanks! Much appreciated!

  5. Too cool! I had no idea πŸ™‚

    1. Um … yeah, sure you didn’t! πŸ˜‰

  6. I love hearing how much your past experiences slanted into this story. You’re making me very excited for it.

    1. Thank you, Chic. Your excitement is making me excited!

  7. It’s neat when your past can tie into a story this way. {Smile}

    Anne Elizabeth Baldwin

      1. Yes, it’s definitely fun! {SMILE}

        Anne Elizabeth Baldwin

  8. By the way, the university library I used to volunteer at had something not quite like that “location board” if I understand what that is. It had entries for each paid employee, and at least “in” and “out” entries, and maybe “lunch” or “away” (meaning elsewhere on campus or at least expected back soon). I’m not sure if it was more detailed than that. In any case, a university library is not as well-regulated as the military. When looking someone up, it was good to know their usual work hours, as well as how good they were at updating the board. Some employees were better about updating their status to “out” when they left for the day than others. I suspect a few had a tendency to be “in” for several days at a time, tho I’m sure they didn’t sleep in the library. {Smile}

    Anne Elizabeth Baldwin

    1. That is exactly what I envisioned!

      1. Complete with some people being better at updating than others? (Sorry, but after I found out about that board, one of the first things I learned was that a former classmate of mine was terrible about remembering to move her chip to “out.” {SMILE})

        Anne Elizabeth Baldwin

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