Archive | Writing

Weekly Round-Up: Yule Slog Edition

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creepy

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.

-Mike

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

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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.

-Mike

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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.

-Mike

Help us provide high-quality literary programming to veterans and civilian supporters. Donate to Words After War HERE.

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#GivingTuesday: Donating to Words After War

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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.

-Brandon

Weekly Round-Up: Thanksgiven Edition

trot this way

trot this way

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

Trip the fan, it’s the tryptophan! Turkey nachos, anyone? What’s that? You were looking forward to a few juicy, succulent hours of silence away from the generally well-meaning family members who happen to be slam dancing on your remaining nerve? Take to the attic, flex those last ribbons of wifi and settle into a dusty armchair with these hearty links.

But first, we would like to thank everyone for their support of our LITERARY MENTORSHIP program. If you or someone you know is seeking assistance in realizing their literary ambitions or searching for a receptive vessel to fill with hard-won knowledge, please contact DAVID via INFO at WORDSAFTERWAR dot ORG.

Yes, we here at Words After War have much to be thankful for this year. A hopping workshop, two great NYC events, a successful contest, donations, glowing media coverage, a growing network of engaged writers, the list goes on. Here’s to many more opportunities to provide veterans and civilian supporters with the tools they need to tell their stories. And now, the links.

1. The New York Times Notable Books for 2013 (including David Finkel’s excellent THANK YOU FOR YOUR SERVICE).

2. Need more recommendations? Writer Elliott Holt’s list of 2013 reads can be found HERE.

3. Need even MORE recommendations? Tis the season for year’s end “Best of” lists, and this one from The Guardian packs an impressive crew of contributors.

3. “New” Salinger stories leaked online.

4. Check out the new online home of our workshop host, Mellow Pages Library.

6. An impressive presentation via Wired and Longreads on polio in Afghanistan.

7. “After a good dinner one can forgive anybody, even one’s own relatives.” Thanks Oscar Wilde! We’re doing our best. Here are a few other Thanksgiving quotes.

Have a great weekend.

-Mike

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Wanted: Literary Mentees

You're the man now, dog.

You’re the man now, dog.

Are you a veteran embarking on a creative project? Maybe you are applying to college or graduate school and need somebody to edit your application essays. Maybe you are outlining a memoir or mulling a novel or just trying to jot down some thoughts. We want to help. Let us match you with a mentor to serve as a sounding board, supporter and independent advisor.

One of the hardest things about writing is finding a reader you trust. It can be difficult to part with early drafts. They are frequently raw with emotion. It’s a vulnerable time. But it is also a crucial part of the process. Finding a good reader can be the difference between publishing your work and storing it on your hard drive. Writers need guidance, they need deadlines and structure. These are some of the more contradictory bits of the creative life. This is why we want to give everyone time to stew in the woods, but we also want to grill them in the workshop. Crank the wheel, turn the scraps into sausage.

Here’s how the Words After War Literary Mentorship Program cranks: You contact us and briefly explain your hopes/dreams/current creative projects. We match you with an experienced volunteer. What happens after we make the introduction is largely up to you. Ideally we would like there to be at least THREE conversations between mentors and mentees, either online or in person, but if you two hit it off we have no problem with more than that. Get an apartment together for all we care. It’s a cold world out there, especially for fledgling artists.

What happens if the chemistry isn’t right? What if your mentor doesn’t GET you? We try again. The mentors are showing up in full force. People want to share their experience and expertise. Let them. Benefit from their knowledge. Learn from their mistakes. Obviously we hope this will be a two-way street. Three-way, if you count us over on the administrative end.

Interested in being a mentee (or mentor)? Contact DAVID via INFO at WORDSAFTERWAR dot ORG. Let’s build.

Weekly Round-Up: Dollar Short Edition

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

After all the big city bustle surrounding our “Danger Close: Writing War in the Workshop” event in NYC this week it was a humbling downshift when I found myself unable to hack into our website in order to post this week’s round-up. Apologies to all those readers out there stumbling about, grasping for guidance and links.

But before we get into those, Brandon and I would like to extend our sincere thanks once again to the Hudson Park Library, moderator Helen Benedict, panelists Matt Gallagher, Phil Klay, Maurice Decaul and Mariette Kalinowski and the attentive, book-purchasing “Danger Close” audience. We look forward to more events and further opportunities to bridge the veteran-civilian divide.

And here we go with the links:

1. 50 years later, here are 5 novels about the JFK assassination, via Book Riot.

2. Here is a Flavorwire list of 50 books that define the last 5 years of literature.

3. Writing and distraction in the Internet Age.

4. Writing crime fiction in a safe country, via Los Angeles Review of Books.

5. Collecting and preserving the stories of Vietnam veterans.

6. Why aren’t more veterans enrolled at our most prestigious colleges? Slate investigates.

7. The NFL and veterans, via Business Insider.

As always, thanks for your time and support.

-Mike

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