Archive | December, 2013

Weekly Round-Up: Best of 2013

Best of 2013

Best of (not) 2013: A Long December

Welcome to the Words After War Weekly Round-Up: “Best of 2013” Edition. In this space we share links relevant to our mission of improving the military-civilian dialogue through high-quality literary programming. 

It’s December, the end of another year, and time to aggregate the best of 2013, or at least a bit of what our culture has offered us from the previous 52 weeks. Here are the “best of 2013” highlights, in no particular order:  The final season of Breaking Bad was not universally loved by all; Sherlock Holmes is owned by no one; we are living through the renaissance of Matthew McConaugheyJonathan Franzen does not have a Twitter account; and, as it turns out, social media is now owned by the corporations. As for me, I read a few exceptional books, caught a couple of Montana trout on a fly, and somehow managed to co-found a literary nonprofit.

Harnessing any literary momentum I have left in the tank, I plan on finishing the year with Steve Coll’s Ghost Wars and the 20,731 word investigative piece in the Los Angeles Times, “The Manhunt for Christopher Dorner.” If there’s any idle time on New Year’s Eve, I’ll round out the final week of December by making a bunch of empty promises to myself about working out, saving money, and reading the Economist and New Yorker from cover-to-cover every week in 2014.

Instead of adding to the homogenous “Best of 2013” reading lists that have been cascading down my Twitter feed for the past month, I want to look forward to some of the things I am excited to see happen in the coming year:

1. Podcasts. Longform Podcast #74: George Saunders. I have a deep appreciation for both the Longform podcast and George Saunders interviews. Now that these two things are somehow converging at a single place and time I suspect this episode will be one my favorite hours of the first weeks of 2014.
2. Writing workshops. Over the past six months, I’ve found the work-life-art-balance to be rather challenging and downright impossible at times. Which is why I am looking forward to hopping the subway more often from Midtown to Brooklyn to be a part of the Words After War workshop at Mellow Pages Library on Wednesday evenings. Fair warning, if you don’t see me there, I am probably stuck at work.
3. Book Launches. Afghan Post by Adrian Bonenberger. This is Words After War’s first foray into promoting an author’s book. We’re excited for Adrian, and we’re just as excited for the general reading public to meet him and read his words. We hope you can join us.
4. Book ReleasesRedeployment by Phil Klay. I’ve written about Phil’s work on the blog before, so it shouldn’t be any surprise that we’re marking down the days until his story collection lands in book stores. Street date for this collection is March 4th. A few more books to look for: Cutting Teeth, The Great Glass Sea, and Made to Break.
5. Books to read. The first book I have queued up to read for 2014 is Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch. I bought this novel about a week or so ago, read the first 10 pages, and I could tell immediately it’s going to be an important novel, which is why I want to give myself the time and space to truly enjoy it. A few more books to read: The Woman Who Lost Her Soul, The Son, and Life Among Giants.
6. Journalism to read. I am obsessed with reading magazine quality investigative journalism, especially when it’s focused on transnational crime, terrorism, war, or the outdoors. If 2014 is to be anything like 2013, then journalism’s cultural relevance is safe for another year. And for my money, these journalists (along many others) are delivering some of the most inventive reporting from around the globe: Patrick Radden Keefe, Mitch Swenson, John Shiffman, and Nicholas Schmidle.

In case you were wondering, here’s a short “Best of 2013” round-up of a things I found interesting:
Favorite Book: All That Is by James Salter
Favorite Literary Journal: Consequence
Favorite Movie: Mud
Favorite Podcast episode: Evan Wright, Episode 67, Longform Podcast
Favorite Album: Trouble Will Find Me by The National
The article that broke my heart: “19: The True Story of the Yarnell Fire,” Kyle Dickman, Outside

From all of us at Words After War, we wish you good health and immense happiness in the New Year!


P.S. Mike drafted his own newsletter. Happy reading.

From The Billfold:

“The Michael McGrath Holiday Newsletter”

Happy Holidays to family, friends, Missed Connections and temp agency administrators.

Tis the season for expiring unemployment benefits and fundraising emails from journals that rejected your work all year, but don’t worry, the exposurelance writer is a resilient beast (you’ll never work for free in this town again!) and I’ve got plenty of irons in the ash pile.

It was another great year for Masters of the Universe and the benefit concert industry. Still, 2013 was not without its disappointments. The following so-called “Get Rich Quick Schemes” fell flat: a Tumblr dedicated to movie theater carpets, self-published “creature erotica,” “Mike & Molly” fan-fic and an Oral History of a Well-documented Celebrity Gaffe, menial labor, Mega Millions, literary busking, ghost writing, day-trading, power-washing, paywalls and NYBR personal ads.

Many moves were considered. Move to Los Angeles! Move to New York! Move to the Fracking Belt! Bogota, Berlin, Detroit (what is this, a Pitbull verse?), Providence, either Portland. Move back home (again) into a partially refurbished chicken coop, apply to Aldi’s (again), dust off The Great American Cover Letter, distribute an abridged resume pruned of degrees among the sprawl, maybe sell drugs or open a black hat social media dojo.

Yes, a life of crime and spam looked better than ever as the machinations of late-capitalism drove us ever deeper into the crags of a blasted post-Recovery Hellscape. Touchy billionaires and corporate overlords organized food drives for their own employees. HR memos encouraged slow chewing to stretch household budgets. Benefits include: free uniform! Benefits include: complimentary productivity-assurance chip implantation! Pay based on experience (no experience necessary). In an effort to scale back my professional goals to reflect the “new Millenium economy,” all I ask is to one day be famous enough to open a successful book store. I’ve always said, it’s too bad sheiks and dictators are into shitty dance pop instead of experimental fiction or independent publishing.

I’ve been so busy with the day-to-day drudgery of the un(der)employed—closing two-figure deals, applying for reduced application fees—that unfortunately a few personal relationships fell by the wayside. For instance, the other day I realized I haven’t heard from my Made coach in like six years.

It’s almost like all these admissions boards, HR reps, landlords, editors, agents, bouncers, loan officers and ATM screens are trying to tell me something. Who knows. Here’s to another year of crying over onion rings, howling into the void, nursing load-bearing delusions, printing out resumes at the library, emailing Central American language institutes and entertaining fantasies of adopting a wealthy baby.



Guest Post: Brass Bed, poetry from M. Sharon Frickey




A wrong turn into a Broadway antique row back-alley

temptation leans against a shop’s back-door

a sleigh of a bed, blackened from years

in someone else’s shed—fifty bucks make it

mine to lug into dad’s garage

where it waits against the wall.

I slip out of the sofa bed, into your old robe

the girls heads still deep in their pillows

the garage is in February’s deep freeze

I lean against the cold curved foot of the bed

and re-read your latest letter, I pray its not your last,

just days before you leave to come home, so close, so far

away with death still hanging in the air.

I will us into that bed.

I will myself content just to feel your warmth beside me

your thundering snore rippling along my lifeline,

pulling me in.

Tan Son Nhut air base, a targeted airfield in ‘68

as you came incountry, now a chartered plane flight away

from the rest of our life together.

You make a California unwelcome home landing,

and you make it home, to us,

life now crowded, overflowing the in-laws basement apartment,

we re-center our universe.

The bed awakes from dream into metaphor

gives itself up for therapy,

Brasso dug up from the bottom of your duffel

smeared on sheep’s wool pads

it fumes the garage, your old fatigues

until I prop the door open.

The sound of the drill, unsoftened, close, feels good on

your ears, pushes back the whop, whop, whop of

helicopter blades until no more blacked metal remains.

The wartime drama of dark tarnish gives way to shining brass.

Daylight until nightfall, three days from black to bright,

the spinning, spiraling, sweet reflection of

resurrection says, “welcome home.”

M. Sharon Frickey is a willing traveler in the quantum soup, a Virgo Earth-mother poet married to a Taurus Vietnam veteran (32 years active and ready reserve service) aligned to create S.T.O.R.Y. Up, a writing workshop inviting service members, family, vets and community to “come to the table” and drop a stone into the story pot. Sharon’s world experiences give her an eclectic background she shares in writing, poetry readings, and speaking. At duty stations in Japan and Turkey, she was honored with Army and Air Force Community Service awards. Her feature articles have appeared in Colorado County Life magazine. A Christa McAuliffe Fellow and retired teacher, she continues to seek out ways to be part of something in the arts bigger than her own interests.

Write for Words After War! Contact MIKE at WORDSAFTERWAR dot ORG.

Weekly Round-Up: Yule Slog Edition



Welcome to the Words After War Weekly Round-Up: “Yule Slog” Edition. In this space we share seven links relevant to our mission of improving the military-civilian dialogue through high-quality literary programming.

What is the optimal caffeine level for creative work? One mug of black tea? Bottomless Ventis? 5 Hour Energy shots? A 16-ounce Red Bull looks like a torpedo. Last time I chugged an “energy drink” looking for inspiration I wound up gagging through a highly pixelated panic attack. What I’m saying is, sometimes you can’t force it.

Hear back from any writing contests this week? I received two polite notifications (everyone’s whipping through the slush in order to return to a clean desk in the New Year) and, well, congratulations to the winners. Some fine day I will write a post all about the contests I haven’t won, the idea that rejection is the defining force of the writing life, but not today. Because it’s almost Christmas and we here at Words After War like to focus on the positive whenever possible. Would you like to get involved? Here are three quick ways to do so: DonateWrite for us! Follow us on Twitter and “like” us on Facebook!

Without further ado, here are the links for the week.

1. Ten great essays on writing, from Flavorwire.

2. Writers take a stand against the surveillance state, via The Rumpus.

3. Jerry Stahl on drug lit for Buzzfeed.

4. Largehearted Boy is painstakingly compiling all of this year’s “Best Of” lists.

5. This week the good people of Detroit’s Write A House gained some Internet attention. Read about their mission here.

6. Here’s a new trailer for David Abrams’ novel Fobbit.

7. A harrowing, starkly realized piece on lobotomized WWII veterans.

Have a great weekend and happy holidays.


Guest Post: “Kill Anything that Moves”

Kill Anything that Moves

The blog will now feature guest posts from our talented community of writers. This week we feature David Chrisinger’s review of Kill Anything that Moves. We are excited to bring you these new and exciting voices.

“Let Veterans Say What They Need to Say”

The men of my grandfather’s generation, who fought the Second World War, are famous for their stoicism regarding the horrors of combat and the struggles of coming home. “The war was in the past. Nobody wanted to hear about those things,” my grandmother told me after my grandfather passed away in 2000.

This sort of silence was even more pronounced for the combat veterans of my father’s generation–those who fought in Vietnam. “In terms of a supportive community in which to digest their experiences,” Dr. Jonathan Shay writes, “the situation for them was worse than it had been for their fathers.”

The danger in not knowing the true costs of war is that, “A society ‘protected’ from the reality of war,” according to author Kevin Sites, “can rewrite the narrative, shaping and forming it into something less terrible and costly by emphasizing only the heroism and triumphs rather than the dark, ugly deeds that occur with much greater frequency than we care to imagine or discuss.”

My own understanding of the Vietnam War changed abruptly a few months ago, after I finished reading Kill Anything That Moves by Nick Turse.

Based on files of the Vietnam War Crimes Working Group, Turse argues that, “Murder, torture, rape, abuse, forced displacement, home burnings, specious arrests, and imprisonment without due process” were “virtually a daily fact of life throughout the years of the American presence in Vietnam” and that they were “the inevitable outcome of deliberate policies, dictated at the highest levels of the military.”

Turse ultimately blames part of the problem on the fact that we as a country never really discussed the true nature of war when our troops came home from from the Second World War.

“Many had gone to Vietnam with their heads filled by visions of their fathers’ war,” Turse writes, “as seen through the prism of the John Wayne movies of their childhoods. The war they would fight, however, proved to be nothing like it had been on the silver screen.”

We do a great disservice if we prevent the sorts of stories Turse uncovered from being told. Not only does doing so unjustifiably absolve the country as a whole from its own responsibility for sending its young men to war, but it also prevents veterans from making peace with themselves.

After more than 12 years of war in Iraq and Afghanistan, let’s make sure we give our veterans the chance to tell us what they need to say.

David Chrisinger works to close the divide between veterans and civilians by helping post-9/11 veterans tell their stories of war. This past October, he ran a 50-mile ultramarathon to raise money for The Mission Continues.

Want to write for Words After War? Send submissions (500 word maximum) to MIKE at WORDSAFTERWAR dot ORG. Thanks!

Weekly Round-Up: “This is a Call” Edition


all of the lights all of the lights

Welcome to the Words After War Weekly Round-Up: “This is a Call” Edition. In this space we share seven links relevant to our mission of improving the military-civilian dialogue through high-quality literary programming.

In between endless Home Alone showings, pointless Love, Actually debates and carols on the dial (these Xmas stations are the costume shops of the airwaves) the holiday season is officially in full swing. But never fear, the content mill cranked along and churned out some links.

Before we get to those, a question: Would you like to write for us? We are soliciting submissions to the Words After War blog from veterans and civilian-supporters alike. To be considered please send any work (essay, fiction, poetry, cultural criticism, humor, etc) in the body of an email (no attachments, please) to MIKE at WORDSAFTERWAR dot ORG. Try to stay under 400 words and include a brief bio. It’s that easy! We look forward to reading your work and hosting a diverse collection of voices on the blog!

To the links:

1. A wild list of all the books alt king Blake Butler read in 2013.

2. Mother Jones on class and the military-civilian divide.

3. A Q&A with WAW friend and author Katey Schultz!

4. Editors of The Atlantic on their favorite books of the year.

5. The New York Times looks back on the year in literature.

6. Quil Lawrence on one Marine’s discharge upgrade.

7. Nobel-winner Alice Munro accepts the award from her living room.

Have a great weekend.


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Waiting for McInerney

adelphi hotel

Photo credit: Flickr/Dougtone

Philadelphia was closing in on me. Parking tickets turned into court notices which turned into a fleet of traffic police and tow trucks looking to clamp a boot on my wheel. I came across the Writers Institute while tooling around the Internet at work. It took place through the month of July at Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, New York. The list of instructors was daunting. Intermediate Writing was led by Jay McInerney, the novelist and wine critic. I wondered if I could be considered an “Intermediate Writer.” I was young and inexperienced but I felt I had important things to say. I wrote about the groggy heat of my attic bedroom, the bottles of tonic water that littered the floor, my stack of sticky, dog-eared yearbooks.

I usually wrote on the train on my way to work. I had recently met some Penn students and they seemed like an interesting topic, but I was still mired in the research phase, staying out late at night, going to the bathroom when the bill came, helping them finish whatever was around. I had an idea for a modern re-imagining of The Decameron, taking refuge in a Gothic frat house while a plague ripped through the city, entertaining girls vetted via social media, resigned to the task of reinventing humanity after we dared to peek our heads out the heavy doors and surveyed the blasted scenery.

I had taken a writing class before. I enjoyed the way the group grew around our shared vulnerabilities. The tip-toeing around truly atrocious stuff, the refusal to indulge the cocky resident genius who already had a story published, the way we hung on the words of our teacher, even though none of us had read her books.

I packed up my car and what I couldn’t cram in the trunk I left on the sidewalk.

Skidmore is hidden from the road, surrounded by woodlands. The buildings are largely modern and low. It maintained an equine feel, a lingering delicacy that I attributed to its history as a posh women’s college. My dorm was in the tallest building on campus: The Tower. Bathrooms were unisex. There was a lounge on the top floor, offering panoramic views of the countryside and the town. I moved into my room quickly. A hand-me-down laptop, wrinkled Oxfords, a handle of Dewar’s, a sleeve of plastic cups. I cranked tunes, propped the door and searched around for an ice machine. In between colleges at the time, I tried to look casual.

Sophomore year was beginning two years behind schedule, after a disastrous freshman experience in New Orleans. Down there I followed every lead into dark corners and came up short on friends and low on credits. The muddy grime of the city was still stained on some of my clothes. I was forced back home, worked menial jobs and volunteered in hopes of buffing my tarnished resume. Jay could fix it, had fixed it, would show me how to live the life and wake up early the next morning without guilt or handcuffs. Jay was going through a transition as well. That summer he had split from his girlfriend, a South African publicist. He had supposedly just finished a book that was going to prove to the literary world his relevance as a post-9/11 novelist. I assumed that he was looking forward to a relaxing month upstate as much as I was. I imagined running into him on campus, maybe in the fitness center steam room, before relocating to a watering hole to clink glasses, exchange notes, plot and scheme.

The campus was quiet as writers reviewed their drafts. Classes started in two days. I decided to go and see the town.

Matthew was from London. He had graduated from Skidmore a month earlier. His friend Bailey was a junior and she had a summer job in a lab, dissecting the brains of fetal animals. We talked about Jay. Matt had met him once at the track. He said Jay loved Saratoga, the horse races, Caroline Street, the old hotel. They shared a few apocryphal stories–sleeping with students, doing drugs with students, breaking into the college pool with students–you know, classic McInerney.

The story I had planned to submit for workshop was slim and so I spent the night before our first class trying to punch it up, adding dialogue and a mysterious man-about-town father figure. I found a ‘80s mix CD in an old Case Logic and played it on my sister’s computer. I walked around the campus at dusk, keeping my eye out for a suave guy in a summer-weight blazer.

My class was scheduled for 3 PM and so at 2:30 the next day I found a seat on a wooden bench outside our building and tried to look busy with registration papers and cigarettes. Three o’clock came and went and there was no sign of our instructor. I walked upstairs to where our class was supposed to meet and found it empty, humming with florescent lights. I went back to my dorm room and illegally downloaded an “Enjoy the Silence” trance remix.

That night there was a reading by an African poet and afterwards there was a reception in the student center. I dressed up and walked down there, shaking my head and smiling. Jay was late, but I understood. An early morning at Elaine’s, a demanding new fashionista, a forgotten deadline. I had found a kindred spirit, a literary outlaw, the Peter Pan of American letters. I laughed to myself. Classic McInerney.

The reception had an open bar and so I met some more students. A girl from Florida, a brooding guy named Ben, a community college English professor from New Jersey named Dennis who spoke openly about how excited he was to be away from his wife. We traded more Jay stories. Ben pointed out a girl from his floor who told everyone that she and Jay were an item, that he had been delayed in Nashville and was driving up from New York that night. I eyed my competition closely. I figured soon I’d have my own hangers-on, after Jay took me under his wing and got my as-yet-unwritten novel published.

I drank fast. The reception ended and we went downtown to the grand hotel. We milled about the back patio, talking, drinking, waiting. By 2 AM I was discussing rat brains with Bailey. I told myself that I had missed Jay’s arrival somehow in the crowd. Our next class was Friday. I checked Page Six the next morning, after I woke up on the top floor of The Tower, where I guess I was keeping watch, like a love-sick light-house operator.

By Friday everyone knew. Jay had met someone special. Again. He would not be able to make it up this summer, but he wished us the best. There was a plug somewhere in the email for his upcoming book, The Good Life. Details were scarce, rumors flew. Our new teacher, a pleasant lady whose name I see from time to time in journals and magazines, struggled to get us caught up to speed. I deleted the changes I had made to my story. I finished the bottle of Dewar’s with Dennis and thought about visiting Bailey in the lab.

At the end of the summer I received a phone call from an uncle. He had heard some scuttlebutt, thought I might be interested. Jay was marrying Anne Hearst; socialite, publishing heiress, a friend from the scene. The good life had finally arrived. I thought back on my summer–horses, martinis, literary conversation–and I hoped Jay might recognize it from his own hazy memories, back in the good old days before the game changed and he got tied down.


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Weekly Round-Up: “Leaked” Salinger Edition


Credit: Flickr/Contemplicity

Welcome to the Words After War Weekly Round-Up: “Leaked” Salinger Edition. In this space we share seven links relevant to our mission of improving the military-civilian dialogue through high-quality literary programming.

I read one of the “leaked” Salinger stories that oozed online last week and have been mulling the moral implications ever since. The story, “The Ocean Full of Bowling Balls,” was an enjoyable read, but it’s a minor work. Maybe if I had first encountered “Bowling Balls” in an old paperback one pre-teen summer it would have packed more of a punch. Instead I read the scanned pages on Imgur after falling down a few Reddit-poked rabbit holes.

I’m sure these stories are still available for those who know their way around the shadier corners of the web. I’d encourage anyone interested to try and track them down. I don’t think these materials should be available solely to those who can afford to visit Princeton University. But the underwhelming material makes me wonder whether Salinger wasn’t some sort of privacy zealot, rather a writer who took quality control (very) seriously.

I have stories that I reread now and I think to myself, thank God nobody published these, I’d be ruined. If my life unfolds perfectly from here on out and I die a widely respected author/cultural figure, will my legacy be tarnished by the posthumous publication of these off-key ditties? I’ll be dead. Hopefully by then I’ll have other things to worry about.

To the links:

1. Service dogs for veterans.

2. Discover what writers read this year in The Millions.

3. Donation allows Florida’s Mission United to upgrade services, facility.

4. All the benefits of a Syracuse MFA without leaving the couch. Here’s Video Office Hours with George Saunders.

5. A great piece on literary self-loathing.

6. RIP legendary editor Peter Kaplan.

7. The 2014 Pushcart Prize winners.

Have a great weekend.


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#GivingTuesday: Donating to Words After War


Today is #GivingTuesday. Originally organized by the 92nd Street Y in New York City in the spirit of tikkun olam (repairing the world), #GivingTuesday has since grown into a national campaign that celebrates and encourages charitable giving to support the work of nonprofit organizations.

Words After War relies on the generous donations of our supporters in order for us to continue to provide the highest quality of literary programming for which we are now known. Many people have recognized the great work we’re doing, and some of these folks have even donated to our organization. For that we are incredibly appreciative, but we’ll be honest: we need more.

In a time of necessary transparency in the nonprofit sector, we make you this promise: your hard earned dollars will always go directly to funding our literary programming. Your donations will help us to provide competitive compensation to our writing instructors. Your donations provide us with the ability to market and organize our successful reading series “Danger Close.” Finally, your donations will help us to design a studio retreat in Maine, launching in the summer of 2014.

Over the weekend I found myself taken by the story of President Obama visiting an independent bookstore in Washington DC and buying a few bags of books. After the White House released the list, I scanned it for the books I had already read. I saw a couple I love and a few I have yet to read. But then I came across a single title, All That Is, and immediately I felt a particular kinship with our President.

But this has less to do with the President and more to do with the power of the written word. Truthfully, I have always been reassured to discover that someone else loves a book just as much as I do. I got that feeling recently when I found out a former manager had read and loved The Art of Fielding. Often, I get a similar feeling whenever I am in a bookstore and I notice a stranger leafing through a copy of Housekeeping, or I see someone loitering in the aisle with Stoner, or even waiting on line with a copy of Go Down, Moses.

These brief literary connections are all evidence to my belief that I’ll never be totally alone as long as I continue to read. Words After War was formed out of a desire to build a community of these individuals. But we cannot do this alone. We need your help to continue our mission of bridging the military-civilian divide through high-quality literary programming. We do this for both the veterans and the civilians. We’re building a community of readers and writers who are working tirelessly to make sure we all feel less alone.

Help fund our mission and donate HERE.

Thank you.