Archive | August, 2013

Words After War Weekly Round-Up


Final Days of Summer Round-Up

Weekly Round-Up No. 2

Dear Friends,

Welcome to the second installment of the Words After War Weekly Round-Up. In this space we share 7 links relevant to our mission of improving the veteran-civilian dialogue through high-quality literary programming. Thanks for your time and continued support. Here we go:

1. The life and influences of mysterious literary heavyweight and Navy veteran Thomas Pynchon is the subject of this long, knotty profile from New York Magazine.

2. Explore the continuing relationship between Sgt. First Class Cory Remsburg and President Obama as Remsburg recovers from severe injuries sustained in Afghanistan.

3. Watch Air Force veteran and celebrated author James Salter on Charlie Rose, along with Paris Review editor Lorin Stein, novelist Mona Simpson and essayist John Jeremiah Sullivan.

4. Visit the work spaces of several prominent authors, including Jonathan Lethem, Julian Barnes and Jesymn Ward.

5. Read Air Force EOD veteran and author Brian Castner’s excellent piece in the New York Times.

6. The challenge of capturing a complex subject in a single sentence: War in six words.

7. Looking for a creative jump start? These writing prompts might help. What’s that? You need a little ambient noise to really get the job done? Bring the din of a busy coffee house to any writing table.

And a very special End of Summer bonus link: Please visit our brand new Writing Community Page, filled with amazing resources and interesting reading material.

Have a great Labor Day weekend.


The inaugural Words After War Writing Workshop, led by veteran and writer Matt Gallagher, will begin Sept. 23 at Mellow Pages Library in Brooklyn, NY. More details can be found here. The workshop is open to veterans and civilians alike. Chairs are filling fast. Join us and spread the word!

Questions, concerns, suggestions? Visit our Facebook Page and follow us on Twitter.


Taking a Whack at ‘Why I Write’

Why I Write

It was late July and I was on vacation with my family. We were renting my second-cousin Parky’s house on an island in Maine. Eighth grade started in six weeks. My required Summer Reading list was full of thick classics. They felt like an insult to the spirit of the season. There wasn’t much to do but fashion bows from driftwood, arrows from garden stakes, ride up and down the island, jump off the dock if it ever got hot enough, bum candy money from old aunts, sniff the lupins, get bored, be obnoxious, feel guilty, eat lunch, doze over summer reading.

I was stuck on the first third of Huck Finn, mostly because I was reading a Stuart Woods book every night (the Stone Barrington series), staying up late in my pine sap-smelling room in the barn loft. There was a bookcase full of them, loud covers and quick hits of drugs, sex, violence, money, all the dirt and excitement I felt was missing from the school-required tomes. I arrived one morning at the breakfast table with a twitchy eye, a symptom of reader’s fatigue, I figured. Then I found that I couldn’t quite work my jaw enough to slurp down my cereal. I inspected a moldy mirror: the left side of my face was puffy and unresponsive. My mother prescribed Advil and OJ and shooed me out the door.

By the end of the week it felt like my skull was melting. Unable to blink, my eye watered constantly. I drooled when I spoke. It was widely acknowledged among the adults that there was a problem but nobody really felt like taking a boat ride to the ER. It was probably just a spider bite, an allergic reaction, nothing some sunshine, salt water and corn on the cob couldn’t fix. In the meantime, I was the Elephant Man of Cranberry Island. Ashamed of my appearance, I retreated further into the universe of Stone Barrington, the man with the chiseled jaw and unparalleled sexual prowess.

When we returned home my pediatrician delivered a diagnosis of Lyme disease-related paralysis. I took antibiotics for a few weeks and gradually my face returned to normal. But stares from other tweens lingered heavy in my mind. Life loomed long and hard before me.

It was only when I began to make sense of embarrassments, bad luck and poor decisions through writing that I realized it was all material, gristle, blog fodder, whatever. But more than that, churning these experiences into words provided a sense of perspective and ownership, a bit of comforting distance, the occasional triumph. I’ve turned that summer and every misstep since into jugs of tart lemonade. And these jugs, these stories, whether they are your own or others, significant or seemingly trivial, reappear at the most unlikely of places, often when you need them most.


Sign up for our writing workshop here, led by Matt Gallagher and hosted by Mellow Pages library.


Weekly Round-Up No. 1

Welcome to the first installment of the Words After War Weekly Round-Up. Every Friday we will be sharing 7 links relevant to veteran affairs and/or the writing life. Here we go.

1. Elmore Leonard, who died this week at the age of 87, wrote nearly 50 novels. Here are their opening sentences, via Deadspin.

2. Blake Butler looks back on his MFA days for Vice.

4. Rutgers has made veteran students a priority through their Office of Veteran and Military Programs and Services. Read more here.

5. A fascinating, annotated interview with Sebastian Junger in Nieman Storyboard.

6. An interview with Fire and Forget contributor Brian Turner.

7. An ideal writing retreat, lost to the wild. Looking for some new roommates?

If you are interested in enrolling in our fall fiction workshop, led by Matt Gallagher and hosted by Mellow Pages Library, please register here. Spots are filling quickly.

Have a great weekend.






Why I Write


Why I Write


I recently spoke with a veteran who had just finished his final tour in Afghanistan; he was preparing for graduate school and looking forward to a life after the Army. He commented that I’d been over there early on in the war, and I joked that I once felt like I had almost missed it.

As I listened to his stories, I secretly hoped that his words could somehow take me back over there again, maybe collapse the space between the Afghanistan he saw so recently and the one I remembered so distantly. Through his stories, perhaps, I might reclaim the memories that have faded over time. I listened carefully for the Afghanistan I too remembered.

As he talked, my mind drifted to the day that I’d watched the flag-draped coffin of a fallen solider being loaded into the belly of a C-130. I stood in an empty space along the Kandahar flight line, watching the plane taxi down the runway and lift off into a clear morning sky. The plane quickly disappeared over the rugged mountains along the horizon, and soon I felt hollow and helpless. The pain of that dead soldier’s sacrifice was so immediate that it felt heavy and moored within me, like an anchor line had been knotted to my sadness and thrown over the side.

For many years after that day, in my mind, I would return to that empty, hollow place along the flight line and stare out at the distant mountains. The rugged peaks stood far off in the distance, like sentries along the horizon, making everything seem tiny set against them, even a massive C-130 sitting idly along the flight line. And in that hollowness, somehow, it felt like those mountains were holding a falling sky in place, as though the sharp peaks kept all of the more broken parts of the war from crashing down on top of me.

Selfishly I believed the mountains would protect me, that somehow they held every shard of that shattered sky from falling on me. And yet, the sky eventually fell, and I lost two good friends in Afghanistan: Jeremy Wise and Sean Carson.

Years later, I have come to realize that even though I’ve been living my life back home, in the United States, somehow no matter how far I travel away from that time or place in my life, I left a piece of myself in Afghanistan forever. I once heard someone describe depression as the act of holding too tightly to the past, and anxiety as the act of holding too tightly to the future. When I write down everything I remember from my time over there, it’s as though I am closing the door on some of my grief and maybe even on some of the ghosts of my past.

I want to imagine a future where the war no longer sits so prominently in the front of my mind. A future where the grieving for dead comrades feels less immediate in my heart. I want to imagine a future where I have moved forward, let go of the past, and stopped worrying so much about the future.

As a veteran, I believe I write so I can move forward and let go of the past; conversely, I believe I write so I’ll never forget my past. For me, writing is this strange, paradoxical act of remembering something in order to try to decide whether it’s worth forgetting. I write to remember Jeremy Wise and Sean Carson. I write their names down so I will never forget them or what they gave on my behalf. Simultaneously, I write so I am able to move forward with my life, to feel less alone, to feel less hollow along that flight line.

Nothing about my past, the death of friends or the war has ever been easy for me. But I write it all down anyway. Often, after I have written it all down, all of it feels less difficult than it once did. And that is enough for me.

–Brandon Willitts

Register now for our NYC veteran writing workshop led by veteran and writer Matt Gallagher


Join the New York Veteran Writing Workshop at Mellow Pages Library – September 2013

Join our writing workshop

Words After War is proud to announce the launch of our New York veterans writing workshop. Through the gracious support of Mellow Pages Library, a Brooklyn library and reading room located on the Morgan L stop in West Bushwick, we are able to serve the growing population of veteran writers in the borough of Brooklyn. Beginning September 24th and running to November 12th, our New York veteran writing workshops are open to all, veteran and civilian alike.

Similar quality New York writing workshops can range in price from $200 to $400 dollars, but due to a generous donation, we are able to provide our veteran writing workshops at no-cost to the participants. We are extremely grateful for the opportunity to provide veteran writers, their families and their supporters with the highest quality literary instruction, without any out-of-pocket expense.

The workshop will be led by Matt Gallagher, a veteran, writer and educator. Matt is a former Army captain, and he’s the author of the Iraq War memoir Kaboom, and a co-editor of and contributor to Fire and Forget: Short Stories From the Long War, both published by Da Capo Press.

We believe citizens of all stripes read, study and write about war and its aftereffects. Why not you? Join us in September in Brooklyn.

We look forward to working with you soon.

Keep writing.

Brandon & Mike & Matt