Tuesday, April 20, 2010
Now it's time, to say goodbye, to all our company ...
If you aren't familiar with the above Mickey Mouse Club lyrics, you weren't hugged enough as a child.
Now. Serious-face time.
Some two-and-a-half years ago, in November of 2007, right before my unit deployed to Iraq, I decided to start a blog. I sat in a living room in Oahu, overlooking the Pacific Ocean, and decided that the words I had typed weren't so ugly-sounding. I had some cursory knowledge of what blogs were, and figured it'd be a simple way to keep in touch in family and friends, so I kept doing it. I named it Kaboom because I was irreverent, and absolutely convinced an IED awaited in my future.
Ironically, one wasn't. But a lot of other Kabooms were.
It has been a hell of a ride, and one absolutely made by two sets of people. First, of course, were the soldiers. They changed my life in a way I'll never really be able to describe or comprehend. Being a platoon leader for the Gravediggers in combat was the greatest honor of my young(ish) life, and frankly, I somehow doubt anything will ever top it. I'm often asked how I made the blog posts so visceral. It was easy. I was telling stories of brave men in chaotic situations, doing their best to figure out why and figure out out. And I was there. I was one of them. I miss it, a lot. Not all of it, of course, but enough of it.
So, eternal gratitude to the guys. But I've already told them in the realness of reality all that. They know.
The other set of people I wish to thank are the readers. Vague, definitely, banal, maybe, but still absolutely true. Maybe some of you are still reading, maybe some of you aren't. The feedback I received from many of you proved ... overwhelming, and I mean that in a good way. From the onset of the blog, all the comments and emails forced me to understand that our plight was, in fact, understood, brooded over, and a concern for many, many others. And when the blog got shut down ... you all reminded me that my present wasn't my past, nor was it my future. So, sincerely, thank you.
The blog turned into a book. And it's cool. I'm happy with such. But like I posted recently, when writing about Corporal Hernandez ... it really doesn't matter. I hope people like and enjoy the book, and it means a lot when I'm told that, I won't pretend to be above that. We all like our egos stroked, and my ego now comes with binding in corporeal form. But even when people don't like it ... it doesn't matter. Kaboom was what happened to us, in that time, in that place. It was us. And it's there, frozen for history to judge, for us, and maybe you, to remember. That's the really awesome part.
Kaboom has gone through its fair share of deaths and revivals, but this will be the last one. I just felt like I was diluting some of the old posts, those straight from the Suck that channel straight sleep-deprived grit, with my veteran/writer/rambler posts of the present. Different time, different mentality, different man. Just another droplet in the e-seas, that somehow evolved into something else because of you. Many gracias, and Mucho thanks.
Fear not, though! I'll still be blogging over at Kerplunk, with the same amount of ironic detachment and irreverence that littered this quirky little site.
Just time for a fresh start, you dig? And I think I owe it to ... The Veracity gods or something ... to leave this site up, as close to as it was, that is now possible.
As I said some moons ago - thank you for caring. Agree or disagree with the war(s), if you're reading this, you're engaged and aware. As long as that is still occurring in a free society, there is something worth the fighting for.
Sunday, April 18, 2010
Wednesday, April 7, 2010
Tuesday, April 6, 2010
Nearly forty years after its inglorious end, the Vietnam War continues to dim the American conscience – no longer really eclipsing it, but it’s still there, looming, nevertheless. “Mattherhorn,” a new Vietnam War novel by Karl Marlantes, brings that eclipse back into the direct vision of anyone who reads it. An instant classic, “Matterhorn” deserves all the literary hype surrounding it. With the litany of Vietnam-era films, memoirs, and novels already out, I was skeptical that a new piece of art could contribute anything more to the murky chronicles of the Vietnam War. To color me wrong in this regard would be a disservice to the visible spectrum itself.
Though many great pieces of fiction have taken place in Vietnam, very few have attempted to do so in the sweeping, wide-vision manner of an epic – until now. The finest Vietnam novels, like Jim Webb’s “Fields of Fire” and Tim O’Brien’s “The Things They Carried” tend to rely on the emotional rawness of the individual to drive forward plots and link together themes. “Mattherhorn,” true to both the mountain peak its name comes from and to its imposing size (600-plus pages), delivers in an all-encompassing manner. Though the story follows, for the most part, a young second lieutenant struggling to come to terms with the responsibilities of a platoon leader, the omniscient third-person narrative allows us inside the minds and motivations of privates and colonels alike. Clearly influenced by James Jones’ “The Thin Red Line” and Norman Mailer’s “The Naked and the Dead,” Marlantes presents a complete jigsaw puzzle to the reader, rather than allowing us to fill in the framework as we please. There is a lot to be said for this approach, as the narrative language is somehow cleansed of both biases and bitterness – something likely filtered out over the 35-some years it took Marlantes to write the book. As both a soldier and a writer, I know how difficult a task this must have been – anger can power the pen (or the keyboard, as it were) much more quickly than resolve can, but that doesn’t necessarily make the end product any more effective.
It’s not a perfect manuscript, however. Marlantes’ odd obsession with racial tensions within the American military structure dilutes the book throughout. I’m aware my own prejudices factored into this perception – the 21st century is so post-racial, brah! – but still, these tensions all too often feel like thematic means to a plot end, rather than vice versa, adding a contrived element that is blessedly absent in the rest of the novel. This forcedness peaks near the end of a book, when a black squad leader explains to the white platoon leader that racial tension, in Vietnam and elsewhere, will go forever away as soon as we all stop caring about the collective past and only worry about the future of the individual. If that argument sounds familiar, it’s the same one your cranky conservative family member trots out every year at Thanksgiving, after assuring everyone “I’m not racist, because my mailman is black, and we’re friends.” Having a young black soldier in 1969 voice the argument of an old white man in 2010 seems like it should be offensive … but instead, it’s just overwhelms with awkwardness.
Despite its flaws, “Matterhorn” deserves its place amongst the war literature royalty. Marlantes brings alive the struggles and sacrifices of men at war as successfully as the literary lions of old. We all know that Vietnam was a clusterfuck of epic proportions, but nothing, it seems, will ever fully capture the impact this had on the souls who fought in the jungles – both the ones who returned home and those who didn’t. “Matterhorn” comes as close as possible to accomplishing such.
All those words, for this - I highly recommend reading it!
Friday, March 26, 2010
Sunday, February 28, 2010
Monday, February 15, 2010
We last left our hero - the Sultan of Swashbuckle, the Bastion of Brash, the Perennial Pirate - mentally drained and suffering from a severe case of typist’s wrists. Dare we even mention the burnt leg hairs still smoldering from the nigh-constant laptop exposure? Would finishing his tome negatively affect his ability to sire Irish degenerates in the future? He didn’t yet know the answer to that question, but he did now understand the difference between overwriting and overwroting – though sometimes accused of the former, he had never before accomplished the latter. And so …
And when he awoke, he wasn’t in Hawaii anymore, and he stopped writing in the third person.
I spent my summer relaxing, decompressing, and adjusting back to the blandness of civilian life. After leaving Hawaii, I spent a few weeks at my mom’s house, in Reno, playing with our old (but still perky) golden retriever, and taking weekly excursions up to Lake Tahoe with City Girl. It was all very idyllic, deserving of a photo montage set to the tune of Louie Armstrong’s “What a Wonderful World.” The bright lights and neon intrigue of New York City awaited at the end of the summer, but in the mean time, I was allowed the opportunity to compartmentalize the events of my recent past as a soldier with an older, more time-stained past of childhood. I assure you, I didn’t feel so blessed about my boyhood during middle school, but after Iraq, even the evils of puberty seemed harmless and sweet in moments of reflection.
Near the end of the summer, Luke, City Girl, and I drove down to Las Vegas to visit my father, stepmother, and stepbrother. Now, the desert between Reno and Las Vegas is vast and mostly barren, eight hours full of old ranch towns, tumbleweeds, and “No Trespassing: Federal Government Property” signs. (Area 51, you dig?) But, after stopping at a McDonald’s in Tonapah, and discovering that I had cell reception there, I chatted with Bob Pigeon for forty minutes about the first draft of Kaboom. He liked it, but as editors are prone to doing, he was going to edit – and wanted me to sharpen it some places, while slicing and dicing it in others.
Although, like most writers, I was convinced I had already completed a manuscript sans flaw, I paused and gave thought to his suggestions. Not only did they make sense, they made damn sense. After all, I thought, he’s a professional and does this for a living. I’m still just some punk kid prone to hero worship seeking out the Hemingway dream.
Then we discussed the issue of the subtitle.
Although Bob and Da Capo didn’t mind the blog’s subtitle, “A Soldier’s War Journal,” they didn’t think it accurately captured the content of the book – while it balanced out the sizzle of the main title, it didn’t really differentiate the book from the litany of other GWOT memoirs out there. This was a big sticking point for them, because Bob wholeheartedly believed (and who was I to disagree?) that Kaboom was different, quite different, in fact, from the products already out there.
We still have a few weeks, he explained, before the subtitle has to be finalized. We both agreed to start mining our brains, and hopefully, someone would strike subtitle gold. Bob then laid out the timeline until publication – a three-step editing process, followed by the distribution of galley copies. Marketing and publicity plans would be developing concurrently.
“Get excited,” Bob told me. “It may not always seem like it, but this process can be pretty fulfilling.”
In all its severe and pronounced glory, the word FAIL does not even begin to describe the subtitle ideas I produced in the coming weeks. Words like “odyssey,” “iWar,” and “counterinsurgent” were tossed around, but nothing ever really stuck. Finally, as the deadline neared, Bob’s assistant editor, Jonathan Crowe, put together parts of separate subtitle ideas to form the winner, winner, chicken dinner: “Embracing the Suck in a Savage Little War.”
With a bona fide subtitle in tow, Kaboom continued its evolution from a theoretical idea to something very tangible – and was subsequently assigned a project editor, Collin Tracy of Perseus. Collin would drive the project train for the next couple of months, helping me through three painful editing and rewriting stages. Jen Kelland, the copy editor, did an amazing job sifting through my ramblings and ravings – certainly not a job I envied, but I appreciated it, nonetheless. And then, in mid-December, as an early Christmas present to myself, I finished my last renditions on the proof pages, and expunged any and all grammatical and capitalization laws from my brain.
The book was now baked and ready for the decoration of marketing and publicity – something I’ll cover next time, when the third and final episode of “How Kaboom got Bookified” is posted!
Ahh, I heart me some trilogies.
Monday, February 8, 2010
Tuesday, January 26, 2010
I hope this finds you all healthy and happy in the New Year. Things for me are going rather swimmingly, albeit much slower and slightly duller than my Army days. The big news, of course, is the publication of Kaboom: Embracing the Suck in a Savage Little War, by Da Capo Press, on April 1. (While I appreciate a good gag on April Fool's Day, if this is one, I'm not in on it, I assure all of you). It bears a passing resemblance to the material on this blog, but the majority of its content is new and has been vetted by an honest to Allah editing process. Amazing what another set of eyes can do, isn't it? Further, it spans my unit's entire fifteen months in Iraq, as opposed to the six or so that are chronicled here.
Anyhow, I want this to be an informative update, not just a shameless plug, especially in the midst of this economy - nonetheless, I must mention that Kaboom: Embracing the Suck in a Savage Little War is now available for pre-order on Amazon.com, BarnesandNoble.com, and Borders.com. Its own website will be up shortly, and I'll pass along that URL when the website is completed. I think the book is pretty good - pretty damn good, actually - and the good people at Da Capo are a big reason why. If you get a chance to read it - and I mean read it, not just buy it, because the former is far more important - I hope and believe you'll agree. My aim was to make it unlike any other modern war memoir out there, in terms of voice, literary style, and bringing my soldiers to life out of the banal silhouettes they are all too often described as. Only time and your feedback can determine is such an ambition was achieved.
On the personal front, I've settled into big city life in New York. The adjustments to the crowds and to the winter has been interesting, but the subway offers endless entertainment, and being able to see City Girl regularly is definitely worthy of hyperbole. I'm in the throes of grad school applications, and will likely be in school next fall channeling my Iraq experience into Islamic Studies or Middle Eastern History of some sort.
I continue to stay in contact with the Gravediggers and the Gunslingers (the unit I spent my time with in Iraq post-blog brouhaha). As occurs with most military units after a deployment, we are strewn across the globe at this point, with many preparing for yet another tour of duty in Iraq or Afghanistan. The stoic resoluteness of our soldiers continues to astound me, and I am keenly aware that my time in the service will always be with me, no matter where I may drift away to in this life.
I'll be updating this blog, fairly regularly, as the publication date for Kaboom nears. Many of my family, friends, and e-acquaintances have asked about the process, so I'll do my best to describe it as I go through it. It's definitely exciting, but don't expect a rock n roll diary - from what I've gathered thus far, the book world is slightly more boring than that.
Oh, and feel free to bask in the awesomeness of the cover!