“No One Wants to See a Woman Hurt”: Veteran-Writer Brooke King

Across the aisle from my hooch, Private Ricky Sullivan sat on his stoop in full battle rattle clinging tightly to a set of dogtags that weren’t his.

So begins Brooke King’s short story “Permanent,” published in 0-Dark-Thirty (Oct. 31, 2014). Brooke is a veteran-writer who served in Iraq in 2006. Upon returning home, she earned her M.F.A. in creative writing and is working on a memoir about her experience.headshotI met Brooke briefly at A.W.P. last month. She’s a young woman brimming with energy, juggling motherhood with writing, speaking out as a voice for veterans and, perhaps somewhat uniquely, for “those who write about war or conflict from a different perspective than just the occupier’s lens.” After reading more of her writing, I got a stronger sense of who she was: someone who pulls no punches and suffers no bullshit.

I was happy to get the chance to ask her some more questions about her experience in Iraq, her time after, and her writing.

1. Welcome, Brooke! Can you tell me a little bit about your background — where you’re from, your military service, and your life since?

Well, I grew up in San Diego, California. That’s right, a tried and true Cali girl. I had been accepted to a bunch of colleges right out of high school, but really couldn’t find my grounding at any of them, so I went to community college, but after almost flunking my first year, I decide that I just wasn’t ready for college.

So, like any lost college student, I joined the military instead of going backpacking through Europe. I know, I could’ve done the obvious and just hung around, but I really felt that I needed to go out and experience the world for a while, that college would be there when I got back.

raising that right hand 001I did it. I joined in a time of war, but I knew that women weren’t seeing combat and that I would come back. Boy was I wrong! I deployed to Iraq in the late August 2006, hitting boots on ground around the beginning of November. A week in, I was out the gate on convoy, staring at a blown up Humvee and recovering dead bodies. It was a very stressful time. It was at the height of tension, they had just caught Saddam Hussein, and firefights were an everyday occurrence. I saw combat, got shot at, blown up, pretty much everything short of losing limbs. So it was no surprise that when I came back from Iraq, I had PTSD.

At first, I was reluctant to talk about Iraq, but as the years went by, it got easier to digest what had happened to me, and soon, the wall that I had put up to hide all the guilt and shame came tumbling down and I went to the VA and sought help. I think a lot of the outreach on my part was because I had gotten to the point where I needed help or I was going to kill myself. I also think it was in part due to the fact that I was a mother. I had gotten pregnant in Iraq and left the service, but when I returned [to the U.S.], I shoved everything that had happened to me in Iraq into a hurt locker and suppressed it because I knew subconsciously that the pain would be there when I was ready to deal with it, and at the moment when I returned, being a mother was more important than being a vet with PTSD.

deployedIt’s been a long struggle dealing with what happened to me, but I think a lot of my success with dealing with it is due to the fact that I went back to school, got my Master in Fine Arts, and began writing about what happened in Iraq. Writing was a way to process the pain that didn’t result in self destruction.

—–

excerpt from “Permanent” by Brooke King (fiction):

From ten feet across the way, Sullivan’s hazel green eyes reflected the somber red light of the setting sun, transforming his irises to a soft shade of caramel brown. His auburn hair was smashed down flat from the weight of his helmet and matted together with sweat and dirt. The chinstrap of his helmet had left marks on his chin. His cheeks were covered with a thin layer of dirt, but a trickle of perspiration seemed to draw a line through it, leaving a translucent streak of sweat from his temples to his jawbone. With his right hand, he reached for his side pistol, an M9 Beretta – the magazine already loaded. His jaw muscles tensed, as he clenched down hard. I could hear his labored breathing, the raspy whistling inhales and hard huffing exhales of a man relinquishing himself to his own premeditated death.

—–

2. Have you always written?
I started at an early age. I always credit my writing ability to my dad. He loved to write in journals. He introduced me to Shakespeare at an early age. And, I remember being fascinated by literature and storytelling as a kid. So, I guess yeah, I have always written, even if its really crappy poem about flowers.

3. I understand that you are writing a memoir about your military experience. Can you tell me what it’s about?

The book begins with a courtroom scene and me on the witness stand, pregnant, testifying against my fiancee.

Then, the book flashes back to my unit and I waiting in Kuwait to push north to Iraq. The book is a very nonlinear fragmented account of what happened to me in Iraq, after Iraq, and the present. It shows the reality of war. I guess in a way I don’t hold back the punches. I put it all out there, letting the reader see through my eyes what happened to Iraq and its people, not just the soldiers that occupied it. I also think that it’s extremely important that we, as the privileged few that made it back from Iraq, consider those who did not make it back or those who are still there, the voices of the people that lived through the war and still continue to see the violence everyday when they wake up and go about their lives. I think my memoir addresses that issue and the powerlessness that the Iraqi people have as being the invaded.

Pick up the shell casing from your first confirmed kill. One of six 7.62 caliber bullets that you fired into a fifteen year old boy’s chest. He was shooting an AK 47 at you. You shouldn’t have the shell casings. You shouldn’t have the gloves. Women weren’t supposed to see combat. Pack it all into the duffle….Pack the hate and the anger. Pack the fear. Pack the shame and disenchantment for a job done too well. Pack the back to back months spent going out on convoy without a day off. Pack your combat lifesaver bag, your hajji killing license, and the rest of your dignity. Pack them all next to the Army Core Values and the bulls–t promise your government made to protect innocent civilians. – From “My Redeployment Packing Checklist”

I also delve quite extensively into what it’s like to be a woman, a veteran, and a mother. And as the book progresses, I hope that the reader walks along with me in the journey as I attempt to understand myself now as it relates to what happened at war. Whether or not I get there is up to the reader, and I think leaving the story in the hands of the reader and really letting them figure it out on their own is what’s kind of cool about the memoir because honestly, as I neared the end of the memoir, I didn’t know myself if I could answer the question of “Who is Brooke now?” so leaving that question in the hands of the reader kind of is a freeing element of the memoir. I let the reader figure it out for themselves.

4. Do you think writing about war experience presents any unique challenges to the already-challenging prospect of writing a memoir?

I don’t think writing a memoir about war is any less challenging than writing a memoir about something else in life, like having cancer or losing a child. But of course, there are times when I have to step back from the material because it hits a nerve, but I feel like if there the subject that you’re writing about in a memoir doesn’t beat against your head like an axe and move you emotionally, you’re writing the wrong memoir because, to borrow from Robert Frost, “No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader. No surprise in the writer, no surprise in the reader.”

There were times, as well, where I had to go to a different location just to write some of the more intensely personal things, like the court martial and present-day events because I felt like being at home was a sort of emotional distraction from what I was trying to understand and tap into and so I took a writer’s residency just so I could divorce myself from home life in order to write the more painful things about being at home and being a mother.

5. The past year has seen some increased awareness in veterans’ writing. Do you think women veterans have seen the benefits of this awareness as well? If not, why do you think that is?

And if you could make a “required reading list” of women veterans’ writing, what would you put on it? (I’m interested in fiction as well as nonfiction, because I am woefully ignorant of women veterans who are writing fiction.)

I actually think that though there has been a lot of veteran writing awareness, the female voice is still subdued by the dominate white male voice of war. I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that it’s hard to look at a woman, writer or not, and realize that she is writing about something that up until very recently was only experienced by men on a massive violent scale. I do know there were women in combat, but in a medical field, not combat situation. Those women from WWII and Vietnam saw a lot of what war does to a person, they see what a man can do to another man, but to have a women be in a situation where she is experiencing what we as human beings do to each other, how hate manifests from misunderstanding and fear; the public have a hard time swallowing that experience. No one wants to see a woman hurt or injured or even in a position where that could potentially happen, so to have women coming back from Iraq and Afghanistan with stories, something to say that goes against the grain of what society is led to believe, they don’t want to believe it or they shuffle it off as something that couldn’t possibly have happened. And I can tell you from first hand experience that every time I tell someone that I saw combat in Iraq, they look at me funny as if they doubt me, as if I’m lying because there is an inherited fear that women shouldn’t be put in harm’s way, but that just isn’t the truth of war anymore. The war is a 360 battle zone, and women are fighting alongside men in the some of the harshest conditions and keeping up!

I think if I had to compile a reading list of female veteran writers, it would entail a lot of Iraqi female writers, as well as those who write about war or conflict from a different perspective than just the occupier’s lens, and it might be more than just the traditional fiction non fiction.

I would have poetry in there as well. So, here goes:
Language for a New Century By Tina Chang, Nathalie Hundal, and Ravi Shankar
Somewhere in a Desert by Dominique Sigaud

index
A Map of Home by Randa Jarar
The War Works Hard by Dunya Mikhail:

How magnificent the war is!

How eager

and efficient!

Early in the morning

it wakes up the sirens

and dispatches ambulances

to various places

swings corpses through the air

rolls stretchers to the wounded

summons rain

from the eyes of mothers….

Some vet writers that I am just taken aback by are:
Kayla Williams’s two memoirs Love My Rifle More Than You & Plenty of Time When We Get Home
Lauren Halloran who write and blogs about her military experiences
Teresa Fazio,who has an amazing essay called No one Left Behind
Death Zones and Darling Spies: Seven Years of Vietnam War Reporting by Beverly Deepe Keever
Eyes Right: Confessions from a Woman Marine by Tracy Crow

6. If you could give one message to civilians — one thing you think they should know about service members — what would you most like them to know?

That there is no line between those who served and those who didn’t; that “we” are like you, “we” are you and that understanding from both sides starts when society stops labeling sides. We all live on the same planet, but what happens to us doesn’t define who we are, it only builds onto who we are already. Soldier, vets, civilians; we experience life differently and the more open we are to what has happened, the better we can understand it and learn from it.

7. And what else should I know about? 🙂

That this is an awesome platform and thing that you are doing that helps bridge that gap between civilian and soldier, bringing that divide a little closer each time. Thank you for creating such a wonderful place for this to occur.

Thank you, Brooke!! That is exactly what I’m trying to accomplish with this blog.

I really appreciate your taking the time. I cannot wait to read your memoir — keep us all posted!!

—–
Brooke King’s work is featured in Home of the Brave: Somewhere in the Sand and Red, White, and True: Stories from Veterans and Families, World War II to Present. You can read (and listen to) a fantastic short piece she wrote (“My Redeployment Packing Checklist”) on KPBS here.

Choosing to Stay or Go: Kathleen M. Rodgers’s Novel, Johnnie Come Lately

I finished reading Kathleen M. Rodgers’s second novel, Johnnie Come Lately, back in January (and it was reviewed by author-and-Army wife Jodie Cain Smith here the following month), but after re-reading it last week I feel compelled to throw my own voice into the crowd. I love this gem of a novel about the life and struggles of a woman named Johnnie Kitchen, who’s searching for answers about her own tumultuous past while along the way revealing a deep compassion for the struggling people she meets.
johnnie
Now, I should start by saying that author Kathleen Rodgers has the kind of personal history I love to hear: an Air Force wife, she raised her two sons — one an artist, one a soldier — while pursuing a career in journalism on the side, and now she’s turned to writing novels.

kathleen rodgers

She’s a tireless advocate for military families, and in getting to know her a bit over the past eight months or so I have witnessed the genuine encouragement she gives to other writers, military spouses, and veterans. While my own husband was deployed I received several messages from her which were so sweet and encouraging that they made me break into a smile.So I admire Kathleen Rodgers as a part of the writer and military-family community, but then she went and wrote a beautiful novel with such a layering of themes, and such a cast of knowable, humble, and true characters, that I just wanted to put out my own endorsement of her book.

Rodgers’s main gal, Johnnie Kitchen, was raised by her grandparents after her troubled mother mysteriously up and left. (Johnnie’s soldier father was killed in Vietnam.) Fortunately, Johnnie’s grandparents gave her the moral compass to become a generous and loving mother and wife. She’s raised three children, she’s a pillar in her community and church, she has a husband, Dale, who adores her.

But things aren’t all peaches and cream. Mortifyingly, Johnnie’s husband has just learned of the brief affair she had very early in their marriage, and it shakes the pedestal he’s put their union on all this time – so much so that he moves out. Then, their youngest son Cade joins the Army (it’s 2007, and the war on terror is grinding along with serious setbacks and no end in sight).

And perhaps most hauntingly, Johnnie’s long-gone mother has suddenly, for unknown reasons, been spotted around town again. Will she try to reconcile with the daughter she left so many years ago, or will she keep herself hidden away, like some specter in purgatory who simply can’t decide whether she’s coming or going?

—–

The more I think about it, the notion of purgatory seems essential to Rodgers’s book. There’s a strong spiritual element to the story (Johnnie’s Texas town is called Portion), and Rodgers writes a collection of characters who are all struggling with burdens and decisions, some seen, most unseen.

Johnnie, observant and sensitive, sees more than most. She spies the smallest signs: scars on a classmate’s knuckles. The strange nighttime habits of a tortured neighbor. The flash of concern on her grandmother’s face when she sees Johnnie’s husband on crutches — a clue to a trauma deep in the family history. Johnnie’s observance is a blessing but also a curse, because she feels a responsibility for what will become of others. Will they choose to stay and fight — or, like her mother, will they slip away?

—–

Johnnie has battled bulimia since pre-adolescence, and, under a sudden onslaught of stress, the old demons come calling. Though she surely can’t be blamed for having such an awful affliction, Johnnie feels guilty when she purges, as if that kind of sneaking around is the equivalent of her intermittently-trick-turning mother’s. But if she doesn’t quit, Johnnie could end up like Karen Carpenter: beautiful, too young to be dead. Bulimia is, Rodgers suggests, its own purgatory. When she’s sick, Johnnie can’t fully join the people around her, as if she’s always on the outskirts of life. When she’s well, she fears an eventual slide.

Is she staying, or is she going?

Finally, there’s Steven Tuttle (“Tutts”), a young family friend who is severely wounded by an IED blast in Iraq. Tutts survives, but one half of his face is disfigured. “When I look in the mirror, I see two people,” he writes to Johnnie. “On one side I see who I was. On the other side I see who I am now.” Suddenly he is like Janus, the god who can see both forward and backward (yet Rodgers writes him with a sweet and very real humanity). Tutts is grateful, he later implies, that he gets to live — unlike Johnnie’s K.I.A. father, whose name is listed simply as “UNKNOWN” on her birth certificate.

The distinction is profound. For all of the characters in this tender, powerful novel, there’s a before and an after. Something has changed them so entirely that they need to decide whether or not they’ll follow it into the abyss. Rodgers never sugar-coats anything — in fact, her scenes depicting Johnnie’s struggles with bulimia are by far the most honest, raw, and difficult descriptions of eating disorders I have ever read — but her novel comes down clearly on the side of hope.

“Thus you may understand that love alone
is the true seed of every merit in you,
and of all acts for which you must atone.”
— Dante, Purgatorio

Rodgers, Kathleen M. Johnnie Come Lately. Camel Press, 2015.

—-

But Johnnie Come Lately here
Kathleen M. Rodgers’s web site

Read more about Kathleen M. Rodgers and buy her first novel, The Final Salute

The Importance of Being Honest: An Interview with Veteran-Writer Teresa Fazio

I’ve been profiling some women veteran-writers here on this blog of late, and today I’m happy to welcome Teresa Fazio, a former Marine who is writing a memoir about her experience with the Corps and particularly about her time in Iraq. Though she’s a materials scientist by day, Teresa’s writing has appeared in the NY Times’s ‘At War’ column, and an essay called “No One Left Behind” recently won a Words After War writing contest.

I met Teresa at AWP, while standing outside a conference room waiting for a panel we were both going to. I’d felt like I’d been surrounded by unusually tall intellectual women for days, so to find someone just an inch taller than me at five-foot-one was a surprising relief.

Teresa is slight and soft-spoken, unfussily pretty, wears glasses. You would not look at her and think, “Now there’s a Marine.” And yet, I’ve talked to lots of service members over the years, and her style of speaking definitely fit a mode of respectful forthrightness — of waiting to hear a full question before answering, keeping a sort of reserve — that I think marks a lot of the people who’ve served. No squealy, girly business or anything like that. She just seemed, well, like a very cool person, someone you would want to talk to for a while.
Teresa-handup-coffeeshopI asked Teresa if she’d want to be included with this blog. She warned me right off the bat that part of her memoir centers around an affair she had with a married officer in Iraq. That might not sit well with my audience, she said.

I can see why the idea of presenting a story about soldier infidelity to a group of mil spouses made her a little uneasy. But I reassured her that what I’m interested in is good writing and tough topics. I told her my small group of readers could handle it.

Because unfortunately, we can’t pretend there’s not some level of mutual suspicion between military spouses and female service members. Siobhan Fallon’s story collection You Know When the Men Are Gone touched upon the mil spouse/ female servicemember divide when it debuted four years ago. In the story “Inside the Break,” a young mom, Kailani, is left behind during her husband’s yearlong deployment. During that time she encounters almost irrefutable proof that he’s carrying on a relationship with a female soldier in Iraq. It’s a difficult situation once Kailani has evidence in hand, but perhaps the most telling part of the story is the Army wives’ initial reaction to seeing that their husbands are even going to be serving with women during the year that they are away.

“Look!” Cristina’s voice was tear-free and loud. The other wives glanced at her and then followed the line of her lifted arm….
All the wet eyes watched that final bus, how it revved its engine to keep up. That supply bus held a threat that had never occurred to any of them when they thought of faraway insurgents and bombs and helicopters crashing.
That supply bus with its fifteen women.

What does it say about us, that military spouses are (sometimes) so suspicious of the small group of women who serve — viewing them as the threat, and not our own, obviously spotless husbands? Why don’t we think about the challenges these women must face, the way they have to constantly keep up with men, present a tough facade, deal (not always, but often enough) with the threat of discrimination and assault at the hands of fellow soldiers, leave children and family members behind when they, too, go off to war?

Maybe we do, in our better moments. I don’t know. And maybe at other times we sit on the beach with other mil spouses and our toddlers and gossip about (getting back to Siobhan’s story) “this private in supply; she was with the guys in Iraq. She some blond little puta that everybody been calling a home-wrecker. Every married chica got to watch out for their husbands…”

Which brings me back to Teresa Fazio’s award-winning story, “No One Left Behind.” In this story, T (as she’s referred to) receives a birthday visit from the Marine she had an affair with on a FOB in Iraq five years before. Very close during wartime, they haven’t seen each other since. He’s still living with his wife and son. She’s single, working, thinking about having children someday. The details of the story, the spare writing and the core of loss at the center of every word — it’s beautiful writing, and the story has sat with me for weeks.

We fell for each other over midnight chess games and tea in a garden on our base. Iraqi civilians, or “hajjis,” staffed it, so we called it the “hajji-mart.” As pawns clicked, Jack steadied me against homesickness, was a beacon of calm after mortar strikes, and made me believe in myself despite my shyness. Mutual attraction pulsed as we taught martial arts classes together. After late-night practice, we’d go to his room and let down our guard, kissing and groping. I loved his attention, and the vulnerabilities he shared with only me. He said his marriage was almost over. He confessed his guilt for signing up his Marines — originally a chemical weapons-detection platoon — to scrape body parts from helicopters and Humvees. He deeply missed his seven-year-old son. After those nights, I walked from Jack’s room undetected. I thought we could map out a way to be together after we came home. After all, the sandbags atop his bunker spelled, “No One Left Behind.”

… In my doorway, he’s balder and thicker than I remember, a fortyish military retiree still living with his wife and son. I let him stash his backpack in my apartment. We sit on my sagging loveseat; it dips us shoulder-to-shoulder.

Jack attends T’s party, but the gulf of experience between the veterans (himself, T, and their friend Hoss, present by phone) and the civilians alienates him. Partway through, he needs to leave for a while. He returns and finally they sleep, but T is awakened later in the night.

Several hours later, I wake to Jack’s thrashing and mumbling, his limbs spastic on the air mattress. It frightens me, this giant man out of control. I clamber from my loft and crouch down, lay a hand on his shuddering shoulder.

“Jack, it’s T, you’re in New York. Jack, it’s T, you’re in New York,” I repeat as I shake him awake. He stops convulsing. Finally, he opens his eyes. “Hey,” I say, squinting without my glasses, “you’re okay. It was a nightmare.”

For the first time, I glimpse what it must be like to be Jack’s wife.

For the first time, I do not envy her.

These are the stories we should be reading. These are the stories of women at war, women whose lives support and endure the military. The idea of two women — Jack’s estranged wife, the mother of his child; and his soul mate of sorts, T, who served with him but is still unable to comfort him — circling each other from a distance, twinned by circumstance, is very powerful to me. I love this story. I hope you will too.

So I’m grateful to Teresa for taking the time to talk with me some more: about joining the Marines as a shy, five-foot-one woman; about the spectrum of perceptions one faces as a veteran; about the challenge of memoir, in which “the most honest writing– the best writing I can put on the page– makes me look like a complete jackass.” Hardly, Teresa — hardly!

So now I’m gonna get right to it.

Welcome, Teresa Fazio!

1. Can you tell me a bit about yourself — where you grew up, what prompted you to join the Corps (were your friends and family surprised?!), and what your experience was like?

Sure. I grew up in a suburb of New York City with three younger brothers. I was a small, nerdy tomboy, and I think my family was a bit taken aback by my wanting to go into the military. We weren’t a military family, but one of my uncles was a Marine LtCol, and I deeply respected him. So ultimately my family was very supportive. The stock reason I usually give for joining is “the challenge and the camaraderie,” and that’s true, but I also really needed money for college. I started ROTC in 1998, so 9/11 was far from anyone’s mind.

The physical component was tough for me at first; I’m five-foot-one. It felt like I spent my entire freshman year of college running to catch up. But eventually I built stamina and got the hang of the field exercises.

After commissioning, following orders and having to appear “squared away” at all times took some getting used to. But things clicked into place when I became a communications officer (keeping an eye on telephone, data, and power networks) and got my own platoon of Marines. They were smart and funny and incredibly hardworking. I still miss them sometimes.
Fazio-pre-convoy
2. Have you always written?

I wrote a ton as a kid. Lots of short stories designed to make my classmates laugh. Then, sometime in high school, I became really interested in math and science and just… stopped. I took one writing class in college, but other than that I didn’t write anything for over 10 years. I did keep a journal while I was deployed to Iraq, and after I finished grad school, I just couldn’t stop writing about what had happened over there. It all came pouring out.

3. I understand that you’re in the process of writing a memoir about your experience in Iraq. Having read a little of your writing, I can see that you tangle with some tough themes: violence, marital infidelity, post-traumatic stress. How do you meet the challenge of tackling these topics in your writing? Has it been difficult?

It’s definitely been difficult. Fortunately I had a few years of counseling under my belt before I even started typing, so I had made a lot of progress in healing old wounds.

I try to be as honest as possible. It takes a few drafts until I can really get to the emotional core of these topics; the truth can be awkward and ugly and frightening. And since this is a memoir, usually the most honest writing– the best writing I can put on the page– makes me look like a complete jackass. So it’s taken some effort to separate myself from the Teresa-character in the book.

But one unexpected gift is that after reading or hearing my stuff, people often tell me their own stories. So confessional memoir torches ego, but builds empathy. That’s been liberating. So have some of the resulting conversations with family and friends.

4. Your essay “No One Left Behind” includes a scene at the narrator, T’s, 29th birthday party in which interactions with two fellow Marines (also deployed with her to Iraq) intersect with friends from her “current” life back in New York City. It’s a moving scene because the gulf of experience between the civilians and the servicemembers is so evident and feels so insurmountable. Do you see this divide lessening, and for their part, what can civilians do to understand the experience of the 1% of our population who serve in the military? If there were one critical thing you’d want civilians to know about our most recent veterans, what would it be?

If I have to pick just one, this covers most of it…

Veterans have a wide range of experiences; there is no single monolithic “veterans’ experience.” The military contains myriad jobs: communications, logistics, infantry, artillery, administration, supply, piloting aircraft, maintenance… and that doesn’t even begin to cover it. Not everyone is going house-to-house fighting with a rifle. Not everyone comes back with PTSD. When I hear other veterans’ stories, I think back to my deployment, and frankly, I’m pretty sure I got off easy. And then I hear *civilians’* stories of trauma, assault, accidents, disease– and realize that those civilians have had far more intense experiences than some veterans. We’re all human.

So I guess I’d tell them that we *are* you. We may have been through some crazy stuff, but maybe you have, too. So let’s engage in respectful, empathetic dialogue that highlights our common humanity.

Also– please don’t ask us if we killed anybody. I can’t believe I still have to say this, but I just got asked that last week, so I figured I’d throw it out there.

5. 2014 was a pretty good year for veterans’ writing, with several notable books by veterans receiving well-deserved attention (most publicly, Phil Klay’s Redeployment winning the National Book Award).

I’m going to interrupt you with a shoutout to Phil, because Redeployment was absolutely stunning. Just gorgeous prose. And at the same time I have to thank him, because none of the narrators in Redeployment were female… which leaves plenty of room for female veteran writers!

Good point!

Still, women veterans have not garnered quite the same attention — perhaps because there are fewer of them? Perhaps because fewer are writing novels? Why do you think this is the case, and do you see this changing in the future? If you had to make a “required reading list” of women veterans who write, what books would you put on it?

I think it’s for both reasons you suggest– women are only about 15% of the total force (and the Marine Corps is only 7% female). So you have an already-smaller number of female veterans, and then only a very small percentage of veterans of either gender become writers. The numbers are not huge.

But I’d add a third reason — judging by the volume of Iraq & Afghanistan-themed books and movies lately, the image of a servicemember in American pop culture is a white male infantryman (or Navy SEAL). There have been a few TV and movie characters who are female veterans, but I can count them on one hand. And with the notable exception of my friend Maurice Decaul, an incredible poet and playwright, we also have yet to see much published war writing from people of color. I think we’ll see that changing in the next few years, to reflect the actual demographics in the military. At least I hope the market gets onboard with that!

Some female veteran writers I’d recommend:

Kayla Williams has written two memoirs – Love My Rifle More Than You & Plenty of Time When We Get Home.
Mariette Kalinowski wrote an unforgettable short story in the anthology Fire and Forget.
Kristen Rouse and Lauren Halloran currently blog and write articles, but have also written fiction for an upcoming anthology (which I’m also in).


6. Awesome! Anything else you’d like us to know? 🙂

Nope, I think that’s about it! Thank you so much for having me!

It’s been my pleasure, Teresa. Thank you!

Not Quitting Now, and Neither Should You: Veteran-Writer Jerri Bell

I am so happy to have veteran-writer Jerri Bell here with me today!

I met Jerri last month at the AWP writers’ conference in Minneapolis. I’d seen her at all the veterans’ and war-writing panels and knew she was with 0-Dark-Thirty and the Veterans Writing Project, both of which I wanted to learn more about, and I knew she was herself a veteran. Finally, on the last day of AWP, I managed to snag her after the final panel I’d attended. AWP, for those who have been, is an intense four days, and by that point my brain felt like cotton candy. I was about to make the drive back out to the ‘burbs, where I was staying with family, but I would have kicked myself if I’d left without talking to her.

So I waved Jerri over, and she (surely as tired as I was) came gamely over to talk. Stupidly, I blanked out and could only manage: “I’ve been wanting to talk to you for four days! Wait……..tell me about what you do.”

She could have made me feel like the dummy I was — with her rank, and her expertise in veteran writing circles — so if she’d politely said she had somewhere to be, I would have understood. Instead, she warmly reminded me of her role with 0-Dark-Thirty and the Veterans Writing Project, and within minutes had me in stitches with her tales about life within an occasionally neanderthal Navy (of which we are both, for the most part, fond).

Turns out she’s of West Virginia stock, like my Grandpa Williams, and has the wry humor and self-sufficient bearing of people I have known for many years. I liked her at once and told her I hoped she’d participate with my blog sometime in the future.

So here Jerri is, kindly sharing her time and knowledge with me yet again. She knows an incredible amount about the history of women in the armed forces, what they have so far published, what they are writing now. Her passion for the subject is genuine and her research impeccable. Her blog about women veterans and their writing, Presumption and Folly, is a must-read for anyone interested in the subject.

I hope you’ll enjoy what Jerri has to say about women veterans, the writing and editing life, and the Navy recruiter who took her to see Rambo III more than 20 years ago : “He lasted one date — but the Navy lasted twenty years.”

Welcome, Jerri!

Jerri Bell: Thank you for the invitation, Andria! I’m honored to be here. And I’ve really enjoyed reading through the posts on The Military Spouse Book Review – I’ve learned about writing by some women veterans whose work I hadn’t come across in any of my previous searches. But now I’m terrified that my Christmas “reading wish list” is about to grow exponentially, and that the to-be-read pile will collapse my nightstand. Your reviews are inspiring some serious book lust.

1. Reviews are my game, book lust is my aim. Thank you!

So, Jerri, can you tell my readers a little about yourself? Where you’re from, what took you into the Navy, some of the places you were stationed? I know that you were in the Navy during the Tailhook scandal and through a time that was even less friendly to female service members than, perhaps, today. How did you stick with it, and how do you feel about your service now that you have retired?

I grew up in West Virginia, the state with the highest percentage of veterans per capita in its population. (I had not known that, but it does not surprise me! – Editor) My dad and both of his brothers did four-year enlistments in the Navy in the 1950s; one of my great-uncles was a prisoner of war in Germany from 1943 to 1945. Dad’s sea stories, which often started with “Now, don’t tell your mother, but…” (just to be clear, Mom met Dad after he’d left the service), made me long for my own life of travel and adventure. So I left West Virginia for college, and never made it back home.Jerri_Bell_1

“Daddy, I think I want to write a collection of stories set around a woman’s perspective within the Navy. Just steady my arms, here.”

After I graduated, I bummed around New York City working various entry-level jobs for a few years. My roommate and I saw Top Gun when it hit the theaters, and suddenly he wanted to be a Navy fighter pilot. But he was working long hours, so when the recruiter called to follow up I was the one who took the calls. The recruiter flirted and sounded kind of cute, so I went down to the recruiting station to ask him out. He lasted one date – but the Navy lasted twenty years. (The recruiter took me to see Rambo III in a theater in Brooklyn. The Navy took me to the Azores Islands in the North Atlantic; Ascension Island in the South Atlantic; Iceland; England and Wales; France, Spain, and Italy; Dakar, Senegal; Japan; Bahrain; California and Hawaii; and all over Russia, from Murmansk to Novorossiysk and from Kaliningrad to Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky.)

I got my commission almost three years before the Tailhook scandal, and my first assignment was to an aviation unit: the Antisubmarine Warfare Operations Center in Lajes, Azores. The first colleague I met – a Limited Duty Officer ensign with twelve years’ enlisted time to his credit – welcomed me with a firm handshake and the question, “Are you going to be like our last female intel officer, and sleep with the commanding officer of every squadron that comes through?” Two days later, when I met the first P-3C plane crew I’d be working with, the plane commander (a pilot) asked, “Are you like our intel officer? She only sleeps with O-4s and up.” Complaining about that kind of thing back then was the kiss of death for a military woman’s career. You had two choices: you could ignore it altogether, or you could turn it into a joke. I made it clear to everyone in my first duty station that I was in the Azores to work – not to get lucky or to rise to the rank of Mrs. – and within a month the guys in the unit were like my big brothers. Like, thirty big brothers. I couldn’t have gotten a date they considered acceptable if I’d tried. It was a long two years!

As for sticking with it: Maybe I’m a bit unenlightened, but I honestly didn’t mind the harassment and repartee as long as I was allowed to give as good as I got, and to be as foul-mouthed as the guys. And as long as I could expect to be taken seriously if I did file a complaint about sexual assault or rape. That was never a concern for me in any assignment in my twenty years: I never served under an officer, male or female, whom I would not have trusted to take a sexual harassment or assault complaint seriously. While the behavior of some of the attendees at Tailhook crossed a line into the inexcusable, mishandling of the investigation caused a level of mistrust between men and women in the Navy that was never completely overcome by the time I retired in 2008. It drove a lot of the harassment and assault (and it does happen, far too often) underground, and at least for a time it left women in the Navy with fewer options for responding to a shipmate’s inappropriate behavior.

Jerri_Bell_2Jerri (center) in an RAF uniform during a 1994 deployment on the HMS Sheffield.

2. When did you start writing?

I made up a bad little poem about daisies when I was maybe three years old. (I still remember three lines of it, and no, I’m not sharing them. I will never be a poet.) My bestie and I wrote our own Nancy Drew-type mysteries in fourth grade, and in middle school we wrote kissy purple-prose romances whose heroes always had an uncanny resemblance to one member or another of the school football team. By the time I was fifteen, I had resolved to write and publish at least one novel before I died.

3. What are you writing now?

I’m finally writing honestly about the Navy of the mid-1990s. I went into the Writing Program at Johns Hopkins planning to write the Great Navy Novel (cue hysterical laughter – of course that manuscript is now in File Thirteen). The fiction advisor read my first workshop submission and said, “You should be writing this stuff from a woman’s perspective.” I got hot under the collar: a good fiction writer should be able to imagine her way into anyone’s head.

He said that wasn’t the problem; he felt that the themes coming out in my writing would be more powerful if the story was told from a woman’s point of view. At that time I was still on active duty, and I was horrified. I told him that military women never wrote the truth about the service – it was too risky. Those of us serving during the Tailhook scandal saw Paula Coughlin go down in flames for telling the truth, and we also knew that if we made waves in any way, we would make life more difficult for other military women. The goal of my generation of servicewomen was to establish professional credibility so that when we demanded opportunities to go to sea on combatant ships, or to do support jobs in a combat zone, the barriers might finally come down – no matter what silence cost us personally. I finished the thesis with chapters of my “Navy novel,” and then stopped writing about the Navy altogether for five years.

It took joining the Veterans Writing Project to convince me that those Navy stories needed to be written, and that they needed to be told from the perspectives of women. I’ve chosen the short story form this time. Four of the finished pieces are out looking for good homes and have collected a few of the obligatory rejections, two more are in revision, and I have notes or rough outlines for another six or seven. I’d love to publish them as a collection when they’re fit for public consumption.

4. That sounds absolutely fascinating – I cannot wait to read these stories.

You’re also a writing instructor for the Veterans Writing Project. Can you tell me a little about that and how you got involved?

I was lying in bed with an issue of The Writer one winter night in 2012 or 2013 – you know, on one of those nights when it’s easier to read about writing than it is to make yourself actually write anything. There was a little article about the Veterans Writing Project, and I realized that I’d been hearing rumors about it through the Johns Hopkins writing program alumni network. (Ron Capps, the director, and all the other members of the editorial board are also graduates of the Johns Hopkins Writing Program.) I jumped out of bed, read every page of the VWP web site, and immediately e-mailed Ron Capps to ask how I could get involved.

As it turned out, Ron had been looking for a Navy veteran and a woman to round out the staff. One of his first assignments for me was to adapt the VWP writing seminar curriculum for a women veterans’-only group. VWP offers writing seminars free of charge to active duty, veterans, and family members, and Ron had noticed that women veterans who attended weren’t speaking up or sharing as much as the men. He wanted to create a “safe space” for women veterans to find their voices. We finally found a sponsor for the women veterans’-only seminar in 2014: we partnered with the VA Medical Center in Washington, DC and ran a fourteen-week course in the fall. It was an honor to work with the participants, and I couldn’t be prouder of their accomplishments. Everyone wrote – a lot. One participant even published an essay anonymously in Army Magazine this spring. We’ll be offering that seminar again this fall at the VA Medical Center in DC, and once more in 2016.

5. Can you tell me about O-Dark-Thirty and your role with the journal?

The Veterans Writing Project publishes O-Dark-Thirty, our literary journal, quarterly in print and usually two or three times a week online. We accept fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and short plays written by active duty servicemembers, veterans, and family members.

I call myself the Chief Button-Smasher and Cat-Herder. When submissions come in to our Submittable queue, I check to make sure that the author is from our target demographic and that the work meets our submission criteria. Then I forward it to the appropriate editor without comment on the content or quality, even though I usually read everything that comes in before forwarding. If the editor is on the fence with a decision, I weigh in and recommend the publication venue, or acceptance/rejection.

When it’s time to publish the print journal, I collect all the accepted work into a single document and copyedit it with our contributing editor, Carmelinda Blagg. We do at least three rounds of copyediting on every issue: we want the authors’ work to shine, and sometimes bits of format get “eaten” when the file is transferred among Submittable, MS Word, and the program that our production manager uses for layout. I usually spend about two weeks every quarter wandering the house in a daze muttering things about semicolons and em-dashes! Then I “herd the cats” – round up postal addresses for contributors’ copies, that sort of thing.

After every issue comes out, I feel a little bit like I’ve just given birth again. Fortunately, the journal neither cries at night nor wants me to feed it.

6. Well, thank God! 😉

As if all that were not enough, you also write a blog called Presumption and Folly, dedicated to promoting and curating the writing of female veterans. The title of the blog refers to a quote attributed to Deborah Sampson, a woman who disguised herself as a man in order to join the Continental Army in the late 1700s. “My companions taxed me with presumption and folly,” the quote goes, “but I was determined, then and always, not to be a coward.”

What motivated you personally to start this blog? What do you hope it will add to the conversation about women veterans’ writing?

The VWP seminar curriculum, Writing War, is craft-based. But it differs from other craft books in that Ron Capps illustrates every aspect of the writing craft with examples of great writing by veterans, from Leo Tolstoy to Tobias Wolff. In it, Ron only included two short quotes from one woman veteran: Vera Brittain, a nurse’s aide in British field hospitals in World War I. So when he asked me to adapt the seminar for women, the first thing I did was to start looking for examples of writing by women veterans. I curated a fairly extensive bibliography, some of which I’ve posted on a “Bibliography” page of Presumption and Folly.

Yeah, it’s tremendous. I scanned through for ages and was introduced to writers I should have known about.

When I started reading the works in the bibliography, I realized that there were wonderful stories behind things that women veterans had written – more information than I could use in the seminar. I love lit-blogging: writing posts about literature is a way of processing what I think about what I’ve read. I hope that I’m creating a “home” for women veterans who write: examples, information about events, resources, and inspiration. We need to start telling our stories. To start speaking up. To end the self-imposed silence.

7. On your blog, you mention that you set out to find female veterans’ writing and that it was harder than you anticipated. Why do you think that is? Who are the women veterans we should be reading?

When you look at the historical record, you see that women veterans in America mostly wrote for private consumption – diaries and letters, for example – until the 1980s. The editors of the anthology In the Words of Women: The Revolutionary War and the Birth of the Nation, 1765-1799 note that “…too often women were viewed as incidental to the men who dominated the course of momentous occurrences and affected their lives.”

This is also true of America’s view of its women veterans. The mother lode of our writing is still hidden away in university or museum libraries, or in private collections of papers. The writing of women, even those who played important historical roles or had unique and useful perspectives, was not considered “serious” historical source material until the second half of the 20th century. And until recently, many women veterans themselves were apologetic about their military service altogether (see my post on Deborah Sampson for a prime example), or they downplayed their accomplishments because women have traditionally been expected to be modest.

Search engines only bring up parts of the whole when you enter “women-veterans-writing.” It’s sort of like the old proverb about four blind men who touch an elephant, each thinking that it’s something different because he can only touch a small part. I worry that society is going to jump to conclusions about women veterans and their writing based on an incomplete understanding of the record.

As for contemporary writing by women veterans: I’ll leave the question of whether or not it gets the same public attention and critical acclaim as that of our male counterparts for next year. Kayla Williams, Lauren Halloran, and I have proposed a panel for the 2016 Association of Writers and Writing Programs Conference called “Unsung Epics: Women Veterans’ Voices.” We’ve lined up a group of women veteran writers diverse in branch and era of service, genre of writing, race/ethnicity, and sexual orientation to discuss that question and others. We hope that AWP will approve the panel proposal!

That sounds fantastic — the AWP board would be nuts not to accept it. I’ll be there!

Here are a few recommendations for your readers:

Nonfiction/memoir: Kayla Williams’ latest book Plenty of Time When We Get Home: Love and Recovery in the Aftermath of War is a mature, thoughtful memoir that offers something for women veterans, military spouses, and caregivers of traumatic brain injury patients alike. Best of all, Kayla’s unique voice – her wry observations and irreverent wit – runs through the entire narrative.

Marine Corps veteran Tracy Crow’s memoir Eyes Right: Confessions of a Woman Marine is another favorite of mine. She’s brutally honest about the challenges women faced in trying to break glass ceilings in the 1980s. And she refuses to either assign blame or wallow in self-pity when she writes about the sexual politics that ended her otherwise-successful career at the halfway mark. I also recommend Teresa Fazio’s posts on the New York Times At War blog: she looks beyond her military experience, but retains a kind of military sensibility when she’s writing about current events. And of course I’m anxiously awaiting Lauren Halloran’s memoir!

Me, too! (Readers: look for an interview with veteran-writer Teresa Fazio coming up next week. Lauren Halloran contributed a review of Ross Ritchell’s The Knife earlier this week, and is interviewed on this blog here.)

Poetry: I just finished the collection Visions of War, Dreams of Peace: Writings of Women in the Vietnam War, edited by Lynda Van Devanter and Joan Furey – poems from American military nurses, civilian aid workers, and Vietnamese women who were on the front lines in some capacity. Farzana Marie, the nom-de-plume of a former Air Force officer, has published Afghan women’s poems translated from Dari and writes her own poetry as well. You can read some of her work in O-Dark-Thirty.

Very cool. Now, what about fiction? I feel like I see much less fiction from women veterans than from the men.

Women veterans are indeed writing fiction! And we’re not afraid to branch out into different subgenres. Navy veteran Valerie Ormond writes young adult fiction; former Army pilot Lynda Meeks and Air Force veteran Graciela Tiscareño-Sato have written children’s books. M. L. Doyle’s Master Sergeant Harper mystery series and Carver Greene’s An Unlawful Order are tightly-plotted, fun mystery/suspense novels that feature women veterans. (Doyle is an Army veteran who also co-authored biographies of American POW Shoshana Johnson and Brigadier General Julia Jeter Cleckley, and Carver Greene is Tracy Crow’s fiction nom-de-plume.)

We aren’t publishing literary fiction as often as memoir, though. There could be a number of reasons for that. Vietnam veteran Susan O’Neill has published a collection of short stories, Don’t Mean Nothing, and Michelle Wilmot has published the novel Quixote in Ramadi: An Indigenous Account of Imperialism.

Watch for literary novels by veterans Mariette Kalinowski and Kristen Rouse – both excellent writers whose web sites say they have novels in progress.

You are a treasure trove of information. Thank you for this phenomenal list. I’d heard of Tracy Crow and her Carver Greene novels, but now I see that I (shamefully) never linked her here. I’ll fix that now!

So — anything else I should know about?

I think that writing by women veterans offers a unique opportunity for bridging the military-civilian divide that we talk about so often in the wake of OEF/OIF. Through writing, I think that we can connect with our civilian counterparts as women: the concerns and interests and experiences of military and civilian women who are struggling to balance family and career, or who are aiming to break the next glass ceiling, transcend the military experience that divides us.

For women – military or civilian – who are struggling to find their voices, to tell their own stories, I would say: go at the writing like a Navy SEAL. It is said that the candidates who graduate the SEALs’ Basic Underwater Demolition School are not the strongest, or the smartest: they’re simply the ones who DON’T QUIT. It took me nine years to get my first published story from first draft to print. That’s a little discouraging: I’m not exactly taking the literary world by storm. But I’m not going to quit now, and neither should you.

I love that. DON’T QUIT!

Thank you so much, Jerri, for your time, and for sharing your expertise (and good humor).

Readers interested in Jerri Bell’s own writing can check out her blog, Presumption and Folly, as well as “My First Cinderella Writing Moment” on The Quivering Pen and an interview about editing on “The Road Less Written.” I, for one, can not wait to read the collection of Navy short stories she’s working on! I’m looking forward to much more from Jerri Bell.

‘Wishing it Was You, Glad it Isn’t’: Lauren Halloran Discusses the Special Ops Myth, the Discomfort of War in Ross Ritchell’s ‘The Knife’

By Lauren Halloran (Air Force)

Ross Ritchell aims to make people uncomfortable with war in his novel The Knife. “I think so much of our society is so far removed from war,” he says in a recent interview with the New York Daily News. “I wanted to make sure the picture I was giving them was accurate and therefore should make them uncomfortable because war is such an uncomfortable reality.”

knifeReaders will be hard-pressed to find anything comfortable about this high-octane account of a Special Operations team’s fifth deployment to a nebulous region referred to as “Afghanipakiraqistan,” this time to root out the key players of the terrorist organization al-Ayeelaa. Ritchell doesn’t shy away from the horrifying images of war, bombs that reduce men to “vapor and mist” or “pieces of arms and legs” and suicide bombers whose “heads would pop off relatively intact, like the cork of a wine bottle.”

ross-ritchell-knifeRitchell doesn’t sugarcoat language; his soldiers exist in all their gruff, vulgar, testosterone-fueled linguistic glory. In this regard, Ritchell’s work feels disturbingly authentic. Other aspects, though, fall short.

The press material claims The Knife “is a fictional account of the men that make up the secret world of Special Ops whose missions we know, but whose stories we don’t.” One could argue that, despite their secrecy, the disproportionate focus on special operators in film, literature and media has made their stories, in fact, the ones with which we’re most familiar. Most of these narratives follow a formula: Men go to war, engage in combat, tragedy strikes, and survivors are left to reconcile the experience. It’s an important and all-too-common storyline that deserves recognition. However, covering the same ground offers limited opportunity to expand the canon of war literature and, thus, the public’s understanding of war. The Knife tries, but fails to present anything new.

The “stories we don’t know” feel familiar, and one-dimensional. The men of the Special Operations team read like caricatures, their descriptors forced, as if the narrator is insisting this is how the characters should be, not this is how they are. Team leader Dutch Shaw mourns the death of the grandmother who raised him. She was “his anchor to the civilian world. To peace . . .” Memories of her compassion and gentleness stand in sharp contrast to everything Shaw sees and does on his deployment. Family man Dolonna is father to two girls with a boy on the way. On the surface he can shift into soldier mode at the buzz of his pager, but still, on missions, the tug of his other life is palpable. Massey the medic wants to leave the military to attend medical school. Meanwhile, he wrestles with the moral ambiguities of war—“You ever feel like a murderer?” he asks, in a peek at an emotionally-complex scene during a game of catch on base. Hagan represents the stereotypical grunt: a loud, obnoxious womanizer prone to horseplay, but he is—the writing declares—a softy underneath. Cooke, the least memorable character, falls somewhere in between. He’s a compulsive liar and cleans his weapon a lot.

I don’t doubt the credibility of Ritchell’s characters. I’m sure in his time as an Army Ranger he encountered soldiers similar to those he portrays in The Knife. I saw shadows of men I served with on these pages as well. But I wanted more than shadows.

Ritchell makes an attempt to acknowledge the local men and women, too, to see the war and its wagers through the eyes of those living in the war zone. Local perspectives are largely ignored in contemporary war literature, which critics have interpreted as disregard to those perspectives, a dangerous “other-ing” that separates soldiers and natives into distinct categories of Us and Them, Right and Wrong, Good Guys and Bad Guys. In The Knife, Ritchell succeeds in blurring the lines. We meet a boy goat herder who makes the deadly mistake of stopping too long on the wrong mountain pass. Another boy being held captive to be used as a suicide bomber is rescued during a mission and given a menial job on base. An al-Ayeelaa leader taken in for questioning reveals himself as “an orchestrator of suicide bombings” and also “a father who just wanted to see his daughter again.” On a raid gone wrong, Shaw observes a woman handcuffed for precaution: “He’d been at it long enough to recognize the hate in her eyes. They would never win over people with eyes like that.”

These storylines have potential to address the multidimensional and extremely complex nature of war. Unfortunately, as with many of Ritchell’s themes, they’re only half realized. We get merely brief glimpses. In the context of the lengthy, machismo military narrative, these passages read like an afterthought.

Frequently the prose, like the characters, falls flat. Pages are terse or bogged down with acronyms and military jargon that, while true to the scene, will frustrate readers unfamiliar with the terminology. Other times, the writing tries too hard to be literary.

It’s a Goldilocks of a book; throughout, Ritchell struggles to find balance. When he gets it right, the results are stunning. Prose jumps off the page in vivid imagery and beautifully-crafted sentences that juxtapose elegantly with the harsh events and people they describe:

“He couldn’t tell anyone who didn’t do it himself what he did for a living, legal or personal reasons aside, and if he did, he knew they would look at him a little too long. As though if only they looked hard enough they might see the blood on his hands and recognize it, appreciate it as necessary but nevertheless unfortunate, before being relieved that they weren’t the ones stained.”

Mission scenes are well-rendered. Precise writing, the pace exciting and cinematic. Ritchell’s strength, though, shines in the moments between missions. He shows the nervous energy expelled at the gym, or in ruck marches across the Forward Operating Base, or “rubbing one out.” The childish pranks that break tension with laughter. The waiting. Watching other men perform other missions on grainy video feed, both wishing it was you and glad it isn’t. The unsettling quiet of a night on the roof of the operations center, engulfed by darkness and stars, wondering if this place might actually be beautiful.

Some of the best, most emotionally-wrought writing comes in the final few pages—questions introduced too late, addressed too briefly. Investment in the characters remains limited. We hear about them, but don’t get to know them. As a result, the ending climax left me sad. I wanted to be gutted.

Ritchell, Ross. The Knife. Blue Rider Press, 2015
—————–
About the author:
ct-ross-ritchell-jpg-20150129Ross Ritchell is a former soldier in a United States Special Operations Command direct-action team conducting classified operations in the Middle East. Upon his discharge, he enrolled at Northwestern University, where he earned an MFA. He currently lives with family and two Labrador Retrievers in the Midwest.

Buy The Knife here

—————–
About the reviewer:
laurenLauren Halloran
is a former Air Force public affairs officer who spent nine months deployed to Afghanistan as part of a Provincial Reconstruction Team.

Her mother was a nurse with the Army reserves who served in Desert Storm. Lauren is completing a memoir about growing up in a military family and her experiences during and after her deployment.

Lauren Halloran earned her MFA in creative writing at Emerson College in Boston, where she lives with her husband, veteran-writer Colin D. Halloran, two [adorable! – Editor] cats, and hundreds of books.

– See more at: http://uncamouflaged.blogspot.com/#sthash.7e2loYiy.dpuf