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Weekly Round-Up: Sochi Stress Dream Edition

Art by Dutch collective Antistrot

Art by Dutch collective Antistrot

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

I have a dream. It’s part of a cycle, exhausting and stupid. I’m sure everyone has their specifically tailored version, finely calibrated for maximum efficiency and angst. It’s not a nightmare, per se, but it tends to leave me more worn out when I wake up then I was way back when I tucked into bed. It’s a lucid bastard, porous, meaning it draws from my present reality, meaning if I wake up in the middle of it once I eventually, inevitably, submerge back into sleep my subconscious has incorporated the brief foray into reality, which somehow cranks the angst even higher. It’s also bottomless, meaning there’s no end, no death (yet), no point. In theory it could mirror my life all the way up to the present moment, making forays off the deep end now and again–it’s an alternate reality, an abstract biopic, not governed by logic or historical truths.

In the beginning of the dream–which doesn’t have sequels so much as constant reboots–I’m called back to one of many vulnerable moments in my past. Usually high school, sometimes college. Almost always academic. Here’s a representative episode: the sun is bright, the hallway floors buffed to a high shine. The year is almost up–movies and field days, frozen yogurt on the quad. Sometimes it’s that wheel-spinning gap after finals but before commencement. I’m cleaning out my locker or selling my books when I come across a heavy biology text still wrapped in plastic. I realize with a punch that I’ve forgotten all about my Life Science course’s lab component and now I’ve failed it and ruined my impending graduation, which all sorts of elderly relatives are traveling great distances to attend.

This draws me into a bureaucratic nightmare familiar to anyone forced to spend any time in a registrar’s office. I’m allowed “one last chance” which typically requires me to either 1) take a bizarre and demanding summer intensive or 2) re-do senior year all over again. Family, faculty and romantic interests are disappointed in me but I commit to a costly, time-consuming do-over. Of course the do-over year is a blur of pitfalls and tar traps, bleating police lights and tragic misunderstandings. It’s a drawn-out version of that reliable staple: reaching, reaching, without ever quite reaching the end.

Imagine the stress dreams of Olympians. They train for years, lifetimes, for a single moment. Parallels do exist between soldiers and athletes, even if the context and stakes are drastically different. Of course it’s unlikely that anybody prone to over thinking will win a medal in Sochi–they must be able to find some empty space during competition, a benefit of training and muscle memory–but they can’t be completely immune to the festering effects of disappointment. Plenty of time to nap in the off-season. Maybe too much time.

Below please find seven links relevant to our mission of bridging the soldier-civilian divide through literary programming. Support us HERE (all sorts of exciting projects we would love to launch given even slightly greater resources). Follow and “like” us. If nothing else, thanks for reading.


1. The death of Philip Seymour Hoffman left me acutely aware of lost potential. That’s a selfish reaction, but one that has undeniably colored the grief surrounding his sad fate.

2. I found this Brooks Wheelan video to be inspiring. Here’s to camping on more scenic vistas in 2014.

3. SECRET Don DeLillo novel. How could I have missed this? More importantly, how can I get my hands on a copy without breaking the bank?

4. Excited about the announced partnership between Blacklist and Turner Networks. Furthermore, as streaming content continues to evolve and grow in popularity and the traditional gatekeepers fall away, there will be more opportunities for marginalized and non-traditional voices to tell their stories.

5. Why do we tend to portray writers as saints?

6. Phil Klay’s powerful op-ed in The New York Times. I can’t wait for Redeployment to drop. BONUS: Here’s Phil’s story “OIF” via Electric Literature’s Recommended Reading.

7. I’ve said this before (it’s been a long winter) BUT once the days get longer and warmer I WILL write an essay (or “post”) on that sadly inescapable aspect of the writing life: constant rejection. In the meantime here are TWO smart links via Brevity and The Airship.

Weekly Round-Up: Cabin Fever Edition

cabin fever

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

It’s winter and if most of us haven’t lived through a polar vortex yet, then one’s surely headed our way. As much time as I spend outdoors in all manner of weather conditions, I still seem to get cabin fever by February. Common side effects include thinking in feedback loops (ex. 6mins14secs into this TED talk), excessive reading, and deeply metaphysical conversations with dogs (recommended). But everything in moderation, right? Or not. There’s an allure to obsession and it’s not unusual for it to feel like a writer’s best friend. As author Jeff Vandermeer puts it:

What is obsession but curiosity and passion taken to an extreme?…Obsession is an essential part of creating an enduring work of art.

And with that, 5 links in the name of cabin fever, with full permission to get completely lost down the rabbit hole of any of these links. Who knows, you just might stumble across something to obsess about:

1. Sketching Guantanamo by Janet Hamlin with a forward by Carol Rosenberg: I’m already on my second go-round with this ground-breaking, only-one-of-its-kind in recent history book that includes sketches and commentary by the sole courtroom artist allowed to document the military trials at Guantanamo for the past eight years. The link will take you to an 18-page excerpt as a free download.

2. Ben Fountain on Aspen’s First Draft radio show: As a fellow civilian war-lit author, I found Ben’s interview relatable, precise, and insightful. Wise words about writing the “other” and the slow-slog of the writing life from the ground up. Plus, he’s got a wicked sense of humor.

3. Outside Magazine reports on Marines and elite adventure racers who showed higher activation in the insular cortex of the brain just moments before being subjected to “aversive stimulus” (ex. restricted airflow).

4. Marines also logged stellar performances in mental resilience in another study, this one funded by a $1.7 million four-year grant from the Department of Defense to study the impact of meditation practice incorporated into training.

5. Jeff Vandermeer, quoted above, has written a book about writing that I can’t recommend enough. Genre fiction skeptics (and I used to be one) be damned, Wonderbook is for every writer and teacher of any kind of writing. Not your average how-to nor your schmarmy beat-the-block approach—this book stretches the limits of imagination in ways sometimes dark, other times corny, and always original. More importantly, it challenges parts of the creative writing canon with highly compelling, innovative alternatives. Vandermeer put it best when he wrote of the writing life, “So the question is: How can you position yourself to dream well?” And dream we do…

Stay warm out there.

Katey Schultz, Flashes of War

Bonus Links:

6. In Salon this week, you can read an excerpt from Kayla Williams’ upcoming memoir, Plenty of Time When We Get Home: Love and Recovery in the Aftermath of WarShe writes movingly about her family’s struggle to care for her husband, who was severely wounded in a roadside bomb attack in Iraq.

7. In the The Daily Beast, our good friend Brian Castner reviews the memoir, Afghan Post, by our other good friend, Adrian Bonenberger.


Weekly Round-Up: Technology Edition


Don’t be this person.

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

There has always been a tension between those who see technology as progress and those who see it as a threat. After decades of rapid technological advancement, we can easily argue that our soldiers are now far more capable and our information is far more readily available than ever before. And yet, paradoxically, with such increased access to information the core of culture – art, literature, classical music – has been overshadowed by, or even forgotten because of, modern machinery and advanced technology. 

Often, I wonder how I ever lived without my modern tech devices, but I also wonder if these things are actually doing anything to improve my life, or the lives of others. Rather than experience the world for what it is, many of us attempt to document each second of it on our four-inch screens.

In honor of this fundamental tension between technological progress and a desire to preserve the good ole’ days, I present the following links from the week.

Here we go.

  1. I bet he didnt have an iPhone. A Japanese army officer who hid in the jungles of the Philippines fighting World War II until 1974 has died at the age of 91.
  2. Advance! In an article for Foreign Policy, Peter Singer and Allan Friedman compare the logic of a first-strike advantage in cyber war to the misguided belief in offensive advantage prior to World War I.
  3. You wont believe what happens next. What if classic book titles were rewritten to be like Upworthy headlines and optimized to get the most clicks?
  4. Advance? The Awl wonders when machines will really be able to predict bestsellers.
  5. Speaking of machines. Facing tighter budget constraints, the Army is considering replacing thousands of soldiers with robots.
  6. But war is still human. Marine Corps veteran Eliot Ackerman’s fascinating piece in The Daily Beast about his lunch with a jihadi fighter in a Syrian refugee camp.
  7. And hard to let go. A New York Times article looks at how the Army is adapting to garrison life as the war in Afghanistan continues to draw down.

Have a great weekend.




Weekly Round-Up: The Wise Family

Wise Brothers

The Wise Brothers

Photo Credit: Washington Post

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


We watched “The Sands of Iwo Jima” starring John Wayne/…And I thought about that movie, asked if it was that way/ He just shook his head and smiled at me in such a loving way/As he thought about some friends he will never see again/He said ‘I never saw John Wayne on the sands of Iwo Jima’ – “Sands of Iwo Jima,” Drive By Truckers


On December 30th, 2009, I was in a hotel room in San Francisco watching CNN when news of a bombing in Afghanistan ticked across the screen. A few weeks passed before I learned that a good friend from the Navy, Jeremy Wise, had been killed along with several others by a suicide bomber during a CIA operation in northern Afghanistan.

It has been several years since Jeremy died, and in that time Jeremy’s brother Ben tragically died from wounds sustained during combat in Afghanistan. Since then, I have tried desperately to make sense of it all, as well as to understand the weight of the absolute grief that has accompanied it. I mourn deeply for his family, as I do for the families of all those who have given their lives in service of our nation.

Even though I have sat with my feelings for some time, most days I don’t feel closer to knowing how I feel. It is not only in those final moments of his tragic death that have I been so lost, but also in the untold moments of his courageous life that we will never know. The life left un-lived is where the heaviness of my grief begins to feel most burdensome.

The past few weeks have stirred many emotions in the veteran community. The media has focused greatly on the fall of Fallujah, the release of the memoir by former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, as well as the premiere of Lone Survivor. Wrapped up in all of this, it seems, have been naïve questions and assertions about whether the staggering loss of military and civilian lives and the destabilization of Iraq’s security somehow serve as evidence that these wars were a colossal mistake. I don’t know if any of that is true.

What I do know to be true is whenever I think of these wars, I think of men like Jeremy and I remember their courage. It is from their courage that I draw my lessons. The willingness to lay down one’s own life so that others might live is all I have every really learned –and probably all that I will every truly know – about war. And, for me, that is enough.

I dedicate this week’s round-up to the memory and courage of Jeremy Wise, Ben Wise, Sean Carson, and to all those who have died in service of our Nation since 9/11. Fair winds and following seas.

Here we go.

1. From the Washington Post comes a difficult but necessary story on the sacrifice of my fallen friend and his family: “One family, two sacrifices: In war, Wise family would pay an awful price

2. Elliot Ackerman, Silver Star recipient and writer, explores the question of whether or not the battles in Iraq were worth it for the New Republic.

3. Gregory D. Johnson examines the national security implications of the ‘Authorization for the Use of Military Force‘ has had for the United States since 9/11 in BuzzFeed.

4. This story, originally published in May 2013, is a disturbing look at a troubled vet turned bank robber. It’s worth revisiting and another example of BuzzFeed‘s quality journalism. 

5. From the Daily Beast come an essay by Benjamin Busch, veteran, actor and author, and his take on the difference between the facts and fiction in the movie, Lone Survivor.

6. Lea Carpenter reviews Jennifer Percy’s Demon Camp for the New York Times.

7. The ‘most interesting man in the world’ is turning his attention to land mine removal, according to this article in The Boston Globe.

Bonus Link: Check out Words After War writing instructor Matt Gallagher discussing Iraq on CBS.

Enjoy the long weekend.


Weekly Round-Up: Snow Days Edition

Snow Days from Space

Snow Days from Space

 Photo Credit: NASA/GSFC/Aqua/MODIS

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

The first few days of this New Year brought frigid temperatures and blizzard conditions to much of the northeast. On Friday morning, I awoke to a city blanketed in white with hopes of a DC-like shutdown. No such luck.

Later that day, I saw a tweet that read something to the effect of ‘the only thing a snow day does is simply remind me that I am now an adult.’ I can’t help but relate to that sentiment, considering that even though the city streets had turned to a soupy gray slush and temperatures refused to rise above freezing all day, it was business as usual for most of us grown-ups, as we braved the elements and went to work. Later that evening, as I walked home from work, I thought to myself, ‘These are the moments my parents warned me about.’

There’s a part of me that is constantly in awe of this city’s sheer resilience and absolute refusal to slow down. Somehow, despite the extraordinary weather, we all decided to reject an afternoon of pajamas and Netflix in favor of suits and snow boots. And there’s this other part of me that really wanted us to collectively decide that it’s not a sin to sit around in gym shorts and enjoy the snow falling on a Friday.

In honor of snow days, here are some links for those of us who dream of a workday spent reading indoors.

Here we go.

  1. Wounded veterans get a new and very important mission: prosecuting child predators. Check out this interesting Stars and Stripes feature on how wounded warriors are chasing down criminals.
  2. Apparently George Saunders was named as one of Salon’s ‘Sexiest Men of 2013.’ Read about this and many more interesting facts in David Daley’s Q & A with the author.
  3. For those who have been monitoring the deteriorating situation in Fallujah, you might find Col. (Ret.) Peter Mansoor’s new book, Surge, to be a rather timely read. Journalist Paul Szoldra has compiled some of the highlights from a Reddit Ask-Me-Anything (AmA) with Col. Mansoor, which provides extrodinary insights into the planning and execution of “The Surge.”
  4. On the New Yorker’s “Page Turner” blog, Hannah Rosefield presents a critique and brief history of author interviews.
  5. Tom Nissley recently published a fascinating book, A Reader’s Book of Days, detailing literary facts for every single day of the year. I don’t mind saying that I received this as a gift over the holidays and will be reading my way through it the entire year. You can read some of Nissley’s January recommendations on The Millions.
  6. Over the past few years, a real industry has risen up around TED, a conference devoted to 15-20 minute long stories that engage with ‘important ideas’ in the fields of technology, education and design (among other things). Benjamin Bratton has written a rather thoughtful essay on why those short, feel-good TED talks might not be all that good for humanity.
  7. And for all of us who love to delete our stories, read about all the stories that Bob Brody never wrote.

P.S. If you have the means, please consider supporting this important project from poet Maurice Decaul: Lioness, the Pride of America, a play in one act.

Stay warm out there.


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.



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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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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