You Have a Story? – When Are You Going to Write It?


from Rotor Review Winter 2024 #163

Several years ago at the 2019 NHA Symposium, we had our first-ever NHA Writer’s Panel. The intent – and results – of the panel were captured by Lieutenant Sam Calaway in the Summer 2019 issue of Rotor Review. LT Calaway explained why the NHA Staff and our Rotor Review Editor, LT Shelby Gillis, asked us to hold the panel. Here is part of what he said:

If there was a consistent theme and one main thing the panelists conveyed it was this: There are a number of wellknown writers who have been producing military fiction and non-fiction for decades – and that’s the problem. Most of them are former military folks who used to be well-versed in all aspects of the military, but their information has become so dated their stories are no longer as interesting – or believable – as their earlier works. But that problem creates an opportunity for all of you in flight suits or coveralls. You are living this now and can tell riveting and believable stories that will find their way into print.

LT Gillis and the NHA Staff thought that a “one-timeinoculation” was a good start, but wondered if we could do something along the lines of a constant drumbeat and share some of the tricks of the trade as well as the tactics, techniques ,and procedures to help you get your ideas out into the world and noticed. However, LT Gillis also challenged us to not just talk about writing in our off-duty time, but to talk about the importance – and impact – of writing for all of you who are sea service professionals and still in uniform.

This is the first of several installments aimed at doing both those things – talking about writing on and off duty. These are related – but somewhat different efforts (you may have received a FITREP once that read like science fiction, but most of us haven’t). So first, we’ll talk about writing with a small “w” – writing at work, and then segue to writing with a big “W” – writing for a mainstream audience. By way of clarification, for that second area, we’re not talking about tweets or Facebook posts or the like, we’ll be talking about getting something in a respected online venue or in print.

The small “w” – writing at work. Wait a minute! – you might say, we’re aviators, “someone else” needs to be doing that. Well, not really. I spent my last 14 years on active duty as either CO, XO, Commodore or Chief of Staff. All that means is that I was at the end of the food chain for tons of written work: Officer FITREPs, Enlisted Evaluations, Naval Messages, White Papers, you name it. And like it or not, this material wasn’t written by a select few (those “someone elses”) but by every officer, chief petty officer, and senior enlisted.

There is so much talent in the naval rotary wing community that junior officers – in particular – are always asking: How do I break out? What makes me pack-plus? What discriminators does my skipper use to help decide who advances in their career and who doesn’t?

As Naval Aviators and leaders, we’re likely to focus on those two attributes – flying and leading. They are important. But look at it from your skipper’s perspective. Most pilots fly their missions well. Sure, if one pilot in the squadron is voted by his or her peers as pilot of the year, and another bangs up aircraft frequently, it’s easy for the skipper to use that as a discriminator. But let’s face it, most of us are under that bellshaped-curve and there’s not much to discriminate our flying skills.

It’s a similar story with leadership. If one lieutenant gets his or her Sailors recognized with all kinds of awards and they excel on their advancement exams, while another lieutenant is on the frequent flier program with his Sailors at XOI or Captain’s Mast, then that gives the skipper a good way to rack and stack them. But most of us are somewhere in the middle of that yawning spectrum.

So what’s left to discriminate the hard-chargers from those who are less so? It’s writing! Having been on the receiving end of hundreds of officer FITREPs, thousands of enlisted evals, point papers, and etc. etc. I can tell you from first-person experience that the differences in quality are astounding.

And you might find it surprising that it’s not the English majors who are writing well, and the EE majors who aren’t. It all comes down to the thought and care and craftsmanship you put into everything you write. And this goes vastly beyond being recognized as the best lieutenant in the squadron. I’ve seen a well-written white paper convince grumpy commodores or unit commanders to do something they originally said they didn’t want to do.

Writing has the power to enable you to influence the course of events in your unit – and beyond. And it even has an impact when you’re a skipper. I’ve sat on selection boards and you only have to read a few FITREPs to see which skippers put a great deal of thought, care and craftsmanship into reporting on their officers and which don’t. Sadly, those in the latter category put their officers at a disadvantage, because board members can’t figure out what the skipper is trying to communicate.

This doesn’t have to be a big rock up a steep hill. There is ample “gouge” out there, beginning with the Naval Writing Guide and a host of other books. Ask around your squadron, someone likely has a copy of most of them. Practice, and don’t be ashamed to ask those who write well for some help.

We don’t want to make this column too long, so I’ll touch on the big “W” – writing for a mainstream audience –briefly here, and then talk in more depth in future articles. In the interim, NHA is now communicating with all of us electronically at least monthly, so we can keep the dialogue going more than just once a quarter.

As someone who stayed alive for thirty years on active duty by following a NATOPS Checklist, what I’ll share with you over the next few issues of Rotor Review is a bit of a methodical, step-by-step approach to getting your ideas out into the world and noticed. We’ll start with what we’re doing today, “Why Write?,” then move on to “First – and Essential –Steps,” and then discuss “Non-Fiction – The Hungry Market.”

After that we’ll discuss fiction and talk about why and how you might want to write, “The Great American Novel.” We’ll also discuss “Establishing an Online Presence” and then talk about “Social Media – Challenges and Opportunities.” All the while, we’ll have ample opportunities to communicate between quarterly issues of Rotor Review.

Why write for a mainstream audience? Perhaps the best way to capture that is to quote my friend Norman Polmar, who is fond of saying, “History is what the historians and writers say it is.” Norman has published over forty books on naval history and most consider him the authoritative source on the subject. Someone has to write down what happens…and that becomes ground truth.

Here’s another way to look at it, and, I trust it will help you understand that writing stories isn’t some odd thing that only a few people do. In Book People, John Sutherland put it this way, “Storytelling is as human as breathing. Literature, since it emerged 4,000 years ago, has shaped the lives of most humans on planet Earth. We are what we read.”

The NHA Staff has been generous in providing us with an opportunity to share some of what we know about writing, so I’ll wrap this up shortly. One of the best answers to the question, “Why Write?” comes from my friend and co-author, Dick Couch. Here’s how he put it in an article in our alumni magazine some years ago:

For me, I gotta write, and it’s the adventure of it that’s hooked me. As the writer, I can do it all. I get to be the National Security Advisor who recommends the action to the President who must commit the forces. I’m the senior officer who sends his men into action and who feels the pain if they don’t make it back. I’m the enemy and the defender; logistician and staff planner. But most of all, I’m a young man again, that fresh lieutenant who must lead his men into battle.

Some men want to die with their boots on. When I cash in my chips, I want to be slumped over the keyboard. And they can plant me with my word processor. I may wake up and want to write about it.

Finally, we all recognize we live in a highly technical world. Our aircraft are complex and we need to understand them. But that often makes us turn to data as the king of the hill. It isn’t. Here’s how Michael Lewis put it in, The Undoing Project, “No one ever made a decision based on a number. They need a story.”

That, in a nutshell, is why we are starting this column again. So many of you have stories to tell, and we want to help you tell them!

We need your stories. We’ll continue the journey in the next issue of Rotor Review. In the meantime, let’s keep the dialogue going and keep writing!

George’s January Newsletter

Hello Writing Friends

Trust that this new year finds you scribbling away at your latest writing project, and that whatever you are creating reaches escape velocity and gets out into the world sooner rather than later.

To that end, while you may not be afflicted with this malady, I have it – in spades. When I undertake a book project, whether fiction or non-fiction, I strive to do all the possible due diligence that I can and make sure that I craft the story in the most effective and efficient way possible. Sounds good…but…as you can guess…this often leads to “paralysis by analysis” and slows things down to a crawl. That’s why I keep this pithy quote by Tom Clancy on a Post-It-Note near my computer monitor:

“I do not over-intellectualize the production process. I try to keep it simple: Tell the damned story.”

I’ve had the opportunity to conduct a number of writing seminars in the SOCAL area. They always provide a great opportunity to connect with beginning, emerging and established writers. If you have done this, you can likely guess, the answer to this query: “What question do you get most often from prospective writers?” It is this: “How do you sell your book.”

Each of you likely has a different answer because you have sold your book or other writing. Here’s what I tell people, and it might be something that you want to leverage as well:

There are three primary ways to get your book out into the world. They are: get your book in the hand of a publisher, get it into the hands of an agent, or self-publish.

For self-publishing, there are many success stories of writers who have self-published, done an enormous amount of marketing, and have been successful. Some of these writers have even been discovered by major publishers and offered attractive contracts. The writer Colleen Hoover comes to mind.

That said, with one-and-a-half million books published every year, including hundreds of thousands self-published online, it extraordinarily difficult to get noticed. Therefore, during my seminars I tell people that they should swing for the fences first and look to get their book published by a large or small or publisher.

A question then becomes: how do you get your opus into the hands of a publisher or an agent?

Since you are writers, you know this, but the days of throwing a manuscript over the transom to a publisher and having an eager intern pull it out of the slush pile and get it to an editor are likely gone forever. As you know, the publishing industry has contracted dramatically, and those interns no longer exist.

Today, publishers count on agents to be the filter to bring them projects that they might consider publishing. Therefore, the question becomes. How do you get an agent?

First, it’s important to recognize that other than agents who are brand new and have just hung out their shingle, most agents specialize in various areas. There are manifest reasons for this that I don’t need to get into here. What I recommend to beginning and emerging writers is to write the manuscript, and then go to the library and find books that are like theirs, whether it is a romance novel, a thriller, a young adult book or whatever. Most writers have the courtesy to thank their agent in the book’s acknowledgment section. Armed with that information (likely a short list of agents), I suggest that people go to another section of the library and pull out the reference book that lists all the literary agents in America. There are thousands of them, and that book has the contact information for the relatively small number of agents you want to reach out to.

Now you have found the few needles in the huge haystack. You simply write a query letter to each of these few agents who represent books like yours. This saves you time and energy by not having to reach out to hundreds or thousands of agents who wouldn’t be interested in your work. It also shows those agents that you have done your due diligence and identified them as likely partners.

This may all seem like simple or even oversimplified advice, but I find that people I speak with then go out and do this often get good results. That is why I’m sharing it with you as a tactic you might want to share with those who reach out to you for advice.

Finally, I have no intent to offer you a Tony Robbins “You can do it!” pep talk. But let’s face it, often we find it challenging to find time to write. That is why I keep this missive that Bernard Schaffer offered in Whitechapel: The Final Stand of Sherlock Holmes nearby:

“Listen, Stephen King used to write in the washroom of his trailer after his kids went to sleep. Harlan Ellison wrote in the stall of a bathroom of his barracks during boot camp. Elmore Leonard got up at 5 AM every morning to write before work. Every time my alarm goes off at 5 AM and I don’t want to get up, or I would rather sit down after work and play a videogame, I think about those guys. Take care of your family. They need you and love you. Make time for them. Then stop screwing around and finish your damn book.”

There is a human condition called “Need to share.” Most of us have it. Whenever I find an article online or in print that I find useful in upping my writing game, I put it on my website:  If you go to the site, you’ll see “Blog” at the top and the pull-down menu takes you to “Writing Tips.” These include these monthly missives. Perhaps you’ll find some of these useful.

Thanks for tuning in. I would love to hear about your latest writing project(s).

All the best – George

Reading Imperative

Books George Galdorisi

Many “smart” people aren’t actually smart. They just know a lot of trivia. Sure, they can tell you all sorts of facts, they have a library of big thick books filled with enormous words, or they can give you the up-to-the-minute news about a political race. But can they tell you what any of this means? Do they do anything important with this information? Of course not.

And these types have always existed. Seneca spoke critically of literary snobs who could speculate for hours about whether The Iliad or The Odyssey was written first, or who the real author was (a debate that rages on today). He disliked hearing people chatter about which Roman general did this or that first, or which received this or that honor. “Far too many good brains,” he said, “have been afflicted by the pointless enthusiasm for useless knowledge.”

Harry Truman famously said that not all readers are leaders but all leaders are readers—they have to be. And they certainly aren’t reading to impress people or for the mental gymnastics. It’s to get better! It’s to find things they can use. Not at the dinner table or on Twitter, but in their real lives.

The same must be true to us. We have to learn how to read to be better leaders, better people, better citizens. We must learn how to read for our own benefit—and so that we might have aid to offer to a friend in pain, or a soul in crisis. Seneca’s point was that only knowledge that does us good is worth knowing. Everything else is trivia.

No Time to Write?


Most people who write yearn for more of one thing. No, it’s not inspiration, or an uber-quiet office, or a better agent, or a more fabulous publisher. It is one thing alone: time!

That is why I was drawn to a recent article by Ken Wells, “How I Wrote Five Novels While Commuting.” It inspired me to make time. Here is how he begins:

When I took a job in New York City at the age of 44, I had work I loved, a growing family and a secret disappointment. I had always wanted to write a novel.

For eight years I’d dragged a manuscript around and fitfully pecked away at it. But mornings with my wife and young daughters were busy, and my job as an editor and writer at this paper was demanding. By the time I slogged home after eight to 10 hours at the office, I was usually too beat to write another sentence.

How would I ever find the time and energy to write?

My move came with a commute. I was captive to a train that shuttled me back and forth from my home in suburban New Jersey, to Hoboken, N.J., where I hopped a ferry to my job in lower Manhattan. The train ride was about 50 minutes each way.

A week or two into my commute, two things had become clear: I would be spending a lot of time on the train. And the ride was pretty comfortable. One day it hit me: Could I write a novel on the train?

I started doing calculations. If I subtracted, say, 10 weeks a year for vacation, business travel and sick days, that meant I’d have 42 weeks, or 210 weekdays a year, to work on my novel. If I could write two single-spaced pages a day, or about 1,000 words—which didn’t seem that ambitious—surely at the end of 12 months I could end up with close to a 400-page manuscript.

Want more? You can read the rest of the piece here:

Military-Industry Conference Highlights the Importance of Uncrewed Vessels


This U.S. Navy emphasis on uncrewed maritime vehicles was on full display at a major international military-industry event. Held in Honolulu, Hawaii, TECHNET Indo-Pacific drew over 4,000 delegates from throughout the Indo-Pacific region. Highlights included:

  • Pacific Fleet is looking for ways to get unmanned surface vehicles forward to desired areas of operations.
  • Pacific Fleet’s strong emphasis on unmanned will enable warfighters to conduct missions in a contested environment that manned systems cannot do.
  • International Maritime Exercise 2022, held under the auspices of CTF 59 in the Arabian Gulf included operations with several regional partners. Navies of these nations explored the capabilities of USVs such as the Saildrone, the MARTAC MANTAS and Devil Ray, and many other USVs from participating nations.
  • Australia has become a leader is USV experimentation. Autonomous Warrior 22 expanded the evaluation of USVs from Australia, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the United States and featured 30 autonomous systems, including Saildrone, MANTAS and Devil Ray.

Military-Industry Conference Highlights the Importance of Uncrewed Vessels

Op-Ed: Military-Industry Conference highlights the importance of Uncrewed Vessels


For those who follow military matters, it is impossible to miss the impact of emerging technologies on changing the character of warfare through the ages. From the time that our cave-dwelling ancestors figured out how to fasten a sharpened stone to the end of a sturdy stick, advances in weaponry have decided the outcome of battles and the fate of nations.

For the U.S. Navy, unmanned systems – especially uncrewed maritime systems – offer the promise of providing the U.S. military with an asymmetric advantage over potential adversaries. Ukraine’s use of weaponized uncrewed surface systems to attack Russian naval vessels has demonstrated just one use of these – as one wag described them – “Swiss Army Knife” platforms.

You can read the full article here



For centuries, sea mines have presented an affordable and effective option in naval warfare. That threat remains today.

The use of sea mines and countermeasures to these weapons have figured significantly in every major armed conflict and nearly every regional conflict in which the United States has been involved since the Revolutionary War.

While many analysts evaluate the ability of the United States to deal with peer adversaries such as China and Russia in terms of cutting-edge technologies, these nations are likely to employ mines in any conflict with the United States.

For all navies, there is only one way to completely, “Take the sailor out of the minefield,” and that is to leverage unmanned technologies to hunt and destroy mines at a distance.


Cover Stories: Spies, Books & Entertainment

Along with my co-author, Kevin McDonald, we are out with a work of non-fiction giving aspiring writers tips on how to write, publish and sell a book. This is practical advice from those of us who have been there and done that – and will help you do so too. Listen Now!

How to Write A Best Selling Book Article by Defense Info

braveship writers home featured

George Galdorisi and Kevin McDonald have a great deal in common.

They are both widely published authors, and they previously served in active duty in the U.S. Navy.

And, now they want to help other aspiring writers, as they have co-authored a book about, well, writing a book.

Galdorisi, a Coronado resident, is a career naval aviator who has written 15 books published by mainstream publishers, including his New York Times bestseller, “Tom Clancy Presents: Act of Valor.”

He has a body of work including over 400 articles in national and international media, and is an op-ed contributor to The Coronado News.

McDonald, of Austin, Texas, was commissioned in the U.S. Navy in 1982 and graduated at the top of his flight-school class, spending the next eight years as a naval aviator.

He left the Navy to become a public-safety helicopter pilot in 1992.

He is the author of “Life Inside the Dead Man’s Curve” and “A Nation Interrupted.” Now retired from flying, he continues to write about aviation and history.

Serving in the Military to Co-authoring

The two authors, with separate illustrious bios, actually met during their time in the Navy when Galdorisi was McDonald’s commanding officer at HSL-43 in 1985.

Flash forward 30 years, the two of them recently set out to write “Braveship Writers Share their Secrets: How to Write Books People Actually Read.”

Galdorisi and McDonald in the book pool their knowledge together to share their greatest secrets to becoming a published author.

Before Galdorisi and McDonald spilled their secrets,  each of them followed different paths to go from a career in the Navy to a career in writing.

Galdorisi, who moved to Coronado in 1983 and currently works at the Naval Information Warfare Center Pacific, said it was not a distinct line that separated the time he stopped active duty and started writing.

“I was fortunate that during my Navy career I had commanding officers who encouraged me to write for professional publications; so that’s what I did,” Galdorisi said.

Start with what you know

He started with writing what he was interested in, which was the law of the sea.

Galdorisi said that all of the articles he wrote for professional publications prepared him well for writing military thrillers.

McDonald, who initially stepped foot in Coronado when he was stationed on the island during his time in the Navy in 1984, still returns religiously to the island from Austin every summer with his wife to visit old friends, Galdorisi included.

McDonald also wrote articles for professional journals and military magazines when he was in the Navy, but it wasn’t until after he retired from his second career flying EMS helicopters that he started writing books.

Reading Galdorisi’s book, “The Coronado Conspiracy,” McDonald said that was the first time he ever read a novel written by someone he knew.

McDonald was inspired, and decided to write his first book, “Life Inside the Dead Man’s Curve” in 2015.

The two of them decided to collaborate for their newest endeavor, pooling together their experience.

“When George first approached me about doing this project, I was kind of skeptical,” McDonald said. “I didn’t know how this was going to work with the both of us writing this book. And it actually worked out well because the reader gets more than one perspective.”

Despite each of their different writing styles, both authors said that they worked together well.

“It’s a great relationship that gave us the confidence to do the book,” Galdorisi said.

The secret?

So, what’s the secret to writing a book people actually will read?

Both Galdorisi and McDonald presented a few takeaways from the book to provide a small glimpse into the wealth of advice that can be found once the pages are open.

Galdorisi encouraged authors, especially those aspiring to write a full-length book, to actually start by not writing a book, because that is a huge undertaking.

“We recommend writing short stuff first. Write something for your college newsletter; write something for your professional publications,” Galdorisi said. “Then you’ll get feedback from editors and you’ll hone your writing.”

This tactic mirrors the process Galdorisi started his writing career with—completing about 30 articles for professional journals about the law of the sea before he attempted a book on the subject.

Write about what you know


Because he was passionate about it, which is Galdorisi’s second piece of advice— write about what you know.

McDonald echoed this sentiment.

“If you sit in front of a keyboard and say, ‘I’m going to write the great American novel; I’m going to sell a lot of copies and get rich,’ it could happen, but you’re probably going to be disappointed,” McDonald said. “You have to approach it as something you’re doing because you enjoy it.”

Approaching the writing process as something you enjoy, rather than a purely entrepreneurial exercise will get you farther in the long run, McDonald said.

Oh, and he had one more piece of advice:

“If you want to be a writer and you’re not an avid reader, you’re kidding yourself,” McDonald said.

Learn more about the secret to writing a book by reading Galdorisi and McDonald’s “Braveship Writers Share their Secrets: How to Write Books People Actually Read,” which is available online.

This article was first published in The Coronado News on 30 August 2023 and is republished with the permission of George Galdorisi.

George’s October Newsletter


Hello Writing Friends,

We live in a world that is increasingly driven – even dominated – by technology. I suspect that many of your recognize this when you compare the sale of digital versions of your book with the sale of your printed books. A sale is a sale, but numbers do matter.

For those of you still in a day-job workplace, you like hear the term “data-driven decisions” a great deal. I know I do, but then again, I work with scientists and engineers. All that said, we do live in a highly technical world, and that often makes us turn to data as the king of the hill. It isn’t. Here’s how Michael Lewis put it in The Undoing Project, “No one ever made a decision based on a number. They need a story.”

Most (likely all) of us have had mentors who have helped us along in our writing journey. For me, it was – and remains – Dick Couch. In an article he wrote years ago, Dick captured the essence of why all of us write. What he said sticks with me today, and I want to share it with you:

For me, I gotta write, and it’s the adventure of it that’s hooked me. As the writer, I can do it all. I get to be the National Security Advisor who recommends the action to the President who must commit the forces. I’m the senior officer who sends his men into action and who feels the pain if they don’t make it back. I’m the enemy and the defender; logistician and staff planner. But most of all, I’m a young man again, that fresh lieutenant who must lead his men into battle.

Some men [and women] want to die with their boots on. When I cash in my chips, I want to be slumped over the keyboard. And they can plant me with my word processor. I may wake up and want to write about it.

When you think about it, isn’t this why most of us write? When I asked a writing friend about her writing “process” here’s what she told me: “I get up at 4am every day and talk to my imaginary friends.”

I suspect that all of you have absorbed the avalanche of information about AI-powered technologies such as ChatGPT, Bard and Bing that can write an article, an academic paper or even an entire book. We all likely have our own opinions (and probably strong opinions) on the impact of this on our own writing.

To that end, I discovered a book, Writing in The Age of AI: What You Need to Know to Survive and Thrive, by David Poyer. It was a good read and you may find it helpful as well. For me, it stripped away a great deal of the hype regarding tools like ChatGPT and its successors and suggested ways to use these tools and helpers.

There is a human condition called “Need to share.” Most of us have it. Whenever I find an article online or in print that I find useful in upping my writing game, I put it on my website: If you go to the site you’ll see “Blog” at the top and the pull down menu takes you to “Writing Tips.” Perhaps you’ll find some of these useful.

Thanks for tuning in. I’d love to hear about your latest writing project(s).