Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Kaboom goes Kerplunk

Short version: now writing at Kerplunk 

Long version:

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

Reality Check

It's been a hell of a week. NPR interviews, Entertainment Weekly appearance, book event in Manhattan, and an awesome release party for "Kaboom" with family and friends. But all of that, while fun, pales in importance to what is currently going on in Afghanistan.

I was slapped into remembering the severity of it all when a family friend/step-cousin (gotta love postmodern American families), Marine Corporal Luis Hernandez, nearly died on Easter while on a dismounted patrol in Marjah. He spotted an anti-personnel IED in a rut, and being the good Marine that he is, immediately yelled at those behind him to run. That ability of immediate recognition isn't something all men/soldiers/Marines possess - it's inherent, and a testament to Corporal Hernandez's leadership.

The explosion of the IED knocked him to the ground, and shrapnel filled his body in 13 places, mainly in his upper torso and thigh. Unable to walk, his buddies dragged him to cover, tried to stop the bleeding, and called in a Bird for a medical evacuation.

Though expected to fully recover, it's going to be a long road for Corporal Hernandez, just as it was for my soldier, Hot Wheels, who's getting ready to finally leave Brooke Army Medical Center in Texas any day now.

My little brother, Luke G the Rascal King, was able to visit Corporal Hernandez in the hospital, stateside. He found him dipping, a Marine's cure if there ever was one. A parade was held for Corporal Hernandez in his hometown of Wolcott, Connecticut - something he certainly earned. His family is understandably filled with both pride and gratitude. For more information on this, please check out the following links:

Not all soldiers/Marines are as "lucky" as Corporal Hernandez was. Some of my former soldiers and peers have already left for yet another combat deployment, or are gearing up to do so. I have a hard time comprehending this, because honestly, it feels like we just got back. And while the book is cool and everything, and I'm having a good time with it, I've promised myself to not take it too seriously.

Because in the grand scheme of things, it just doesn't freaking matter all that much. Soldiers and Marines are putting their lives on the line every day and night right now in hellholes half-a-globe away, and no words will ever be able to totally capture the tragic beauty of that.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Green Zebra

I wrote a brief piece on the state of the veteran in our glorious postmodern Republic for The Sandbox. Check it out, or face the e-gallows!

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

"Matterhorn" Review

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

We Remember

Please keep the family of Greg Rundell in your thoughts and prayers today. This Wolfhound made the ultimate sacrifice in Iraq two years ago. We remember.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

The military and social media - hugging it out

Like all gigantasarus bureaucracies, it sometimes takes the military a while to put out official policies on new topics/subject matters. (http://www.cnn.com/2010/TECH/02/26/military.social.media/index.html) So, it should come as no surprise that only now are U.S. military personnel *officially* allowed to Tweet/Facebook/e-harmonize in ways that relate to their profession. And while all the PR gurus are claiming it's a match made in heaven now, based on my personal experience, I foresee a far rockier relationship ensuing between the Great Camo gods in the sky and social media.

Military structure is designed around control. There are rules, they are clear, and they are to be followed. They flow from the top-down, and on a macro level, are not conducive to interactive feedback from the bottom-up. As we've seen over the past few years though, social media allows interaction to occur between the top and the bottom, taking away control from the middle. Trust me when I say that the middle doesn't like this inability to filter messages. Further, as e-society develops, it's clear that the emo sub-current of expression is a tool utilized constantly and consistently in social media forums, especially amongst the young. Bitching about life/the job/etc. isn't just likely with soldiers at war, it's inevitable. And while the rules may claim only operational security violations will incur Higher's wrath for enterprising military social media-ites, I'm certain that the fine print includes a whole slew of other ways to do it. Like, I don't know. Describing a senior officer in an unflattering light. It's been known to happen, I guess.

If the military is going to successfully embrace social media, rather than having it embrace them - either can occur, because let's face it, even Delta Force can't kill the internet - it's going to have to do something it pays great lip service to, but isn't always great at executing - empowering junior leadership. The Pentagon can't read every blog, Tweet, or status update our brave soldiers/sailors/Marines/air-people produce. But each one of those personnel have a layer of leadership that can. If properly educated, junior leadership in the military can and will harness the beast of social media. Will they fall off, sometimes? Sure, but no rule implementation, no matter how rigidly or loosely enforced, proves perfect.

Big military has rules on underage drinking, but it relies on local leadership to enforce those rules. Social media restrictions should be no different, despite the possibility for high visibility violations. The alternative is to create a high level regulatory mechanism, which will only further the "us vs them" mentality that those on the tactical level feel exists. (Not saying it's true, just that the perception does). And pragmatically, this level of regulation simply won't work, and will only generate more acts of social media rebellion amongst the rank-and-file. (Damn the Man! And such). Official policies are swell and everything, but their direct impact in the trenches is minimal. How those are enforced matters far more. If the military is serious about utilizing social media constructs, it needs to accept the good and the bad now, and teach all levels of leadership what right looks like. If it doesn't, stories like Colby Buzzell's and mine will multiply tenfold.

In other news, I'm hoping to hire Optimus Prime's voice for the audio version of Kaboom. In no way am I kidding.

Monday, February 15, 2010

How Kaboom got Bookified - Part Deux

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 …

He slept.

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.


As the offensive continues in Marja in Afghanistan, please keep Corporal Luis Hernandez in your thoughts and prayers. He and his fellow Marines are "mowing the grass" - also known as the clearing portion of counterinsurgency - and the more positive vibes sent their way, the better.

Monday, February 8, 2010

How Kaboom got Bookified - Part One

A lot of friends, family, and e-acquaintances have asked about the book process, and how Kaboom evolved from a defunct blog to an actual book. The short answer is simply: the luck of the Irish. The long answer isn't much more informative, but perhaps it'll help some aspiring author in the future, and/or give you all more insight into this world.

After the Washington Post article ran - yes, that article - a fair amount of publishing houses and literary agents contacted me, offering their services for an eventual Kaboom book. Although I was busy making the rounds for a new set of "discussions" in offices across the FOB, I did a little research and decided on William Clark, of Wm Clark Associates, to represent the project. This allowed me to concentrate on something far more important - the remaining 7 months of our deployment.

I spent this time serving with a rifle company in an infantry battalion. This time meant everything to me, because it allowed me to get a fresh start and perspective, and still contribute to the Iraq counterinsurgency on the ground level. The grunts took me in as one of their own, and while there were a few cav scout jokes tossed around ("where's your horse?" was always my favorite), it was all in good humor. I wrote about my experience with the infantry company - code-named the Gunslingers - but mainly in a personal diary manner, rather than in blog form. At this point in my life, I hated the Internet and it hated me. Writing though, still served as a catharsis, allowing me in my free time to digest the events of my days and nights in Iraq.

Meanwhile, William did the legwork for trying to find Kaboom a publisher. He knew I couldn't finish the project until after we returned home in the winter of 2009, but between a couple sample pieces and the blog fallout (a spade is a spade: the WaPo article kick-started all of this), he believed there was enough material to spark a deal with a publishing house. We were nearing such a deal when the economy went all Sylvia Plath on us in the fall of 2008. The houses were wary of any first-time writer, let alone a writer about a supposed "tired" topic like Iraq, so William started his search anew, and the Gunslingers and I finished out the deployment. The airplane ride back was a joyous one, something made even more special when I wandered back a few seats and discovered some of the Gravediggers riding with us.

About a month later, in March, CPT Demolition and I journeyed to the Land Down Under to broaden our cultural horizons and party away the previous 15 months of our lives. Australia is a beautiful and invigorating country, and I will forever associate it as the place I found out that Kaboom the book was going to become a reality. Very early one morning - say noon or so - I emerged from a beer coma and stumbled to the restroom to confirm that I, in fact, still existed as something more than a headache. After doing so, I checked my phone to see what time it was, and noticed I had a text message from William Clark. "Call ASAP!" it read. I did, and subsequently learned that Da Capo Press, under the leadership of a passionate editor named Bob Pigeon, had made a very gracious offer for the publishing rights to Kaboom.

"Should we take it?" I asked William. I was ecstatic, obviously, but between the hangover and my ignorance to the book world, I probably didn't sound it.

"Hell yeah!" he replied.

Not that CPT Demolition needed anymore excuse to celebrate of course, but we did toast that night a few times to the news.

After returning back to Hawaii, I began the process of leaving the service. Anyone who has ever done this can tell you this is a painful, time-consuming process - time that was precious to me, because I had a deadline to meet in terms of the first complete draft of Kaboom. I somehow made it, though, mainly due to my roommate, Chris (book pseudonym: The Great White Hope), and little brother, Luke. After graduating from college that spring, Luke joined me at our apartment in Hawaii for my last month there, and ensured that I took breaks from my writing marathons to do things like eat. Or see the sun. Or even occasionally shower.

I was honorably discharged from the Army on June 10, and nineteen days later, with two hours to spare, I sent in the completed first draft of Kaboom. And then I took a deep breath and a very, very long nap.

So, in short, all I can really offer you in terms of securing a book contract is this: find someone passionate about your project and trust in them. I was blessed to find two such men in William and Bob. But that passion must originate with you - if you believe in your writing and your project enough, the likelihood of someone else feeling that way will increase exponentially.

In a few days, I'll write another segment, chronicling the steps taken with Da Capo to turn a rambling computer document into a tangible book.

Hope all is well out there, both in the interwebz and reality.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Another Long Overdue Update

Greetings e-universe-

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!