Sunday, May 25, 2014

Words After War

The plight of veterans is often in the news today. For example, congress recently voted to reduce retirement benefits retroactively (How can this even be remotely legal!). Fortunately, this was repealed. Perhaps more importantly, it has come to light that many veterans receive inadequate medical care, or no care at all as they are shuffled and maneuvered through a bureaucratic that apparently even falsifies records to hide its inefficiency. While it is criminal that these tragedies occur, it is somewhat encouraging that the issues surfaced and will be addressed voraciously. This is because vets know how to organize, support, and defend one another. One need only look to examples set by the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW), Disabled American Vets (DAV), and support groups such as the EOD Warrior Foundation (EODWF) to observe that veterans are a formidable force. Some veterans support one another through connections that are less formal, yet equally effective.

Vietnam Veteran Mike Walsh decided to document and photograph all of the Vietnam memorials within the United States. Mike's photojournalistic journey grew into a blog called "A Means to Heal." Vets use his site to address the internal conflicts stemming from their service in Vietnam. Naturally, a common way for veterans to honor their service and that of their compatriots is to talk or write about their experiences in war. It follows then, that veterans often help one another when they write, edit, and publish.

While writing my first novel, Proximity, I was also working on an emerging journal called Military Diver. This periodical never come to fruition, but it introduced me to Steven Waterman (Just a Sailor) and Chuck Pfarrer (Warrior Soul). They both read my manuscript, gave sound editorial advice, kindly provided a blurb for the book jacket, and guided me through the publication process. Now, I pass on this wisdom and experience, assisting other veterans to develop their manuscripts and find a home for their work. I do not know how much impact I imparted to each, but many of them enjoy well deserved success. Perhaps my favorite is fellow EOD Technician Brian Castner. When introducing him to my former agent via email I wrote "This maybe the most important book about modern war." Brian's story, The Long Walk, is published in multiple editions in the U.S. and UK, and has even inspired an opera! 

For veterans in search of literary guidance, I always recommend they join the Military Writers Society of America (MWSA). MWSA supports military members in their writing and those who are enthusiasts writing about military topics. Recently, Brian Castner introduced me to Words After War. Founded by Brandon Willitts, it is a group that provides opportunities for veterans to develop through a variety of programs. For example, there is a one week "Summer Writing Intensive" at Marlboro College in Vermont.

I volunteered for the Literary Mentorship Program. Through this, Words After War connected me with a Navy veteran writing a novel that is influenced by his service in Afghanistan. I look forward to sharing more as it moves from manuscript to published work. In the meantime, I recommend perusing Words After War, following the blog, and contributing to their efforts.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I have now read nearly all of your recommendations. My favorite was a draw between Brian Castner's The Long Walk and Proximity. While I found Castner's book more emotionally engaging I coveted the skills portrayed by techs in Phillips' Proximity.

If you choose to write another story based on "Jazz" I would love to hear more about the family conflicts and the accession to becoming a Master Blaster.

I feel the relationship between Jazz, Elena, and Mel could develop into a very good second novel. Coupled with a conflict that includes the cat and mouse of bomb makers and EOD Techs in Afghanistan. A third layer could be the rift between EOD "operators" and EOD "technicians", or those who dive and RSP vs. those who shoot and BIP.

The technical details of Proximity were its strong point. For those interested in the subject of EOD and the reality of today's conflicts this is bar none the best novel to understand the cost of freedom, as paid by our service members and their families.

If Mr. Phillips wrote a second installment with the passion and detail of the first I would certainly purchase it. As far as the contents of such edition all I can do is suggest the above topics and say thank you for your work thus far, Mr. Phillips.

Don't become diluted or dissuaded with the notion of the limited commercial success of a book. Your topic is narrow for a reason. Some day these stories will be mandatory, as is the reading of The Draper Kauffman Story. Every man and woman to pass through NAVSCOLEOD will some day have Proximity, The Long Walk, and America's First Frogman in their personal collection.

So I say don't stop with first installments and either way, thank you for the good read.