My year in review

Another year-end blog post? Yes, my friends.

This is my year-end blog post. There are many like it, but this one is mine.

2014 was a big year for me: a year of growth, a year of challenges, a year of small disappointments and bigger triumphs. At first glance, it might seem that not much happened this year. I started the year an unpublished writer, and here I am, twelve months later, still an unpublished writer. But I am much, much closer to my goal than I was 360-some days ago when I decided that New Year’s Day 2014 was the day I would begin writing my new novel.

I’ve attempted such a feat several times before, but each time, I got bogged down somewhere along the way and never saw the process through to the end. A year ago, I vowed that this time would be different. This time, I would not only finish my novel, but I would rework it, refine it, and do whatever I had to so I would be able to present my manuscript to the world as a work worthy of publication.

Of course, I’m not quite there yet, but I’m well on my way. The novel I started to write on New Year’s morning, The Road Back From Broken, has been written, critiqued, edited, rewritten and thoroughly worked over during the course of 2014. The first lesson of being a writer is to learn that the first draft is just the beginning. I finished my first draft on April 4th, and spent the balance of the year reworking Road to make it leaner, tighter, smoother, and more polished.

Now, a year later, I am preparing to query literary agents, to see if I can find someone who believes in this book as I do and who will be able to help me find a home for it. I’m writing two other books: one a sequel to Road and the other a prequel. The next year will present challenges of its own, as I brace myself for the inevitable rejection letters that come with the agent-querying process. But I remain positive. I believe that the book I wrote is important, and that the story I told matters. As I venture into this next phase of the process, I will keep my chin up. I’ve got a crowd of friends and fellow writers I’ve come to know over the last couple of years, all of them cheering me on as I plow forward.

A year ago, the book I’m querying was a sketchy outline, bullet points on a page in Google Docs. Now it’s an actual novel, a complete manuscript that ready to go. A lot can happen in a year.

Where will I be this time next year? What successes will I be able to celebrate? What lessons will I have learned along the way?

Only time will tell.

The tortured narrative of a nation at war: USA & the CIA Torture Report

Ty Mayfield’s thoughts on the implications of this week’s revelations that the CIA engaged in a long-running campaign of torture after 9/11. Read on.

Strife

By Tyrell Mayfield:

Photo: Wikipedia

What is more important: truth or trust? Are they mutually exclusive? Does one require the other? These are the questions that America is struggling with as it finds itself once again standing at the crossroads of legal, moral, and social justice.

The recent release of the summary of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s Study of the Central Intelligence Agency’s Detention and Interrogation Program describes—in over 500 pages—what America has long referred to as ‘enhanced interrogation’. Most of the world called it what it was: torture. America has shown the world a redacted report – the original is 6700 pages – that describes what it has done in its quest to protect itself and its way of life from those that would do it harm. It turns out that America has clearly harmed itself and its own credibility more in the process than it gained in any…

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A Return to Blogging?

I’ve been a very, very bad blogger.

Now, I do have a very, very good excuse—I wrote a book during the time I wasn’t blogging—but nonetheless, I’ve been a bad blogger.

However, a very nice lady and fellow writer I met at the 2014 Florida Writers Conference invited me to participate in a Liebster Award blog hop (sort of like a blog chain letter, “tag, you’re it” sort of thing), so I figured this was a good chance to kick (re)start my blogging efforts.

While it sounds like a cutesy name for a dachshund or a new Volkswagen convertible, the Liebster is really a way for writers and bloggers to share ideas. To that end, Faydra Stratton asked me, Beth Salmon, Serena Schreiber and Bria Burton the following holiday-themed questions, which I will answer.


  1. What traditional Thanksgiving dish do you wish would never show up on your table again?

Ugh! I loathe sweet potato casserole with marshmallows on top. Now don’t get me wrong: I absolutely love sweet potatoes, but I absolutely do not understand why those naturally sweet little tubers need to be topped with sticky blobs of factory-whipped sugar (which by the way do not resemble the old-fashioned confection made from the Althaea officinalis plant). I like my sweet potatoes roasted or mashed, with a bit of cinnamon and nutmeg sprinkled on top. Save your marshmallows for smores and keep them away from my sweet potatoes!

  1. How do you keep writing during the holiday season?

I find it fairly easy to write during the holiday season because that’s when I actually get to take big chunks of time off work. I work two jobs: my day job that pays the mortgage, and my writing job, which feeds my soul but hasn’t earned me a single red cent (yet). During the holiday season, I actually get to have entire days that I can devote entirely to writing, when most of the year, writing is what I do during the evenings and on weekends.

  1. What does your main character want for Christmas? Why?

The main character of my novel, The Road Back From Broken (which I’ll begin querying after Christmas), is Jacob “Fitz” Fitzgerald. Fitz’s struggle with booze, post-traumatic stress and survivor’s guilt have estranged him from his family and the book focuses on the process by which he and his family begin to heal their broken connection. Fitz would like a Christmas where everything was the way it was before the IED went off in Kunar Province, Afghanistan: his medic friend isn’t dead, his body isn’t dotted with shrapnel scars, his sleep isn’t interrupted with nightmares and flashbacks, and his relationship with his wife and son doesn’t bear the awkward marks of the six months of strife and silence that followed his injury. None of these things are possible, of course. What he’d be happy with instead is a nice family dinner including chilaquiles and tamales (Fitz loves Mexican food), and a membership at the local rock-climbing gym.

  1. What prompted you to finally sit down and write a book?

Road represents my fifth attempt to write a novel. I tried a couple times during the last ten or twelve years to write a book but abandoned each attempt after I lost steam. I decided in 2013 that it was time to try again, and attended the 2013 Florida Writers Conference with the goal of making this next attempt my first success. My husband encouraged me to make a New Year’s resolution to start writing a book in 2014. I woke up on New Year’s Day and started my novel, and on April 4th finished my first draft.

  1. Where do you do most of your writing?

At home, sitting on our comfy green sofa, with my MacBook Pro in my lap. I did write portions of Road on my lunch hour at work and in airports using Google Docs on my iPhone. But 95% of the book got written on my MacBook while sitting on the sofa. Not very glamorous, I know.

  1. Is there any genre or type of book you’d love to write but are too intimidated to do so?

Historical fiction, which is an odd thing to admit considering I am a huge history buff. The thing is, I’m such a perfectionist in my writing, I’m leery of writing a book set in another era for fear I’d screw up the details of daily life and leave the book with a texture that’s not as authentic as it should be.

  1. Confess! What’s your bad habit in terms of writing? 

No surprise based on that last answer, I suppose, but one of my bad habits is too much detail. My first drafts are full of excessive details, textures, sights, smells, car models, street names, etc. some of which gets culled out in the editing phase. I also tend towards sentences that are too long and complex, so editing involves frequent use of a cleaver.

  1. What author or book speaks to you the most and why?

Two of the books that most influenced me as a writer are by Tim O’Brien: The Things They Carried (1990) and In the Lake of the Woods (1995). O’Brien humanizes the experience of war—in his case, the Vietnam War—by showing how it affects his characters on a really micro scale, and also how the experience of war trauma is processed by each character in the context of the lives they lived before going to war. I’ve tried to do this in my own writing, showing how “macro” historical events impact people who experience them on a very micro scale, each in their own unique way, and those impacts resonate for generations after the events in question.

  1. Imagine you’ve been asked to speak on a panel for writers. What’s the topic and what other authors do you want sharing the stage with you?

I would love to talk to other writers on the topic of writing about trauma and recovery (or non-recovery) from trauma. I’d like to be joined by writers who also write about trauma, including war trauma but also other kinds of trauma (arising from, e.g., abuse, assault, accidents, losing a child, etc.). My dream-team of co-panelists would have to include Tim O’Brien, Toni Morrison, Laurie Halse Andersen, the English novelist Pat Barker, the Canadian novelist/poet Anne Michaels, and the romance writer Jessica Scott, who weaves wonderful love stories about wounded souls after they come home from war. (I’ll readily admit that Jessica is one of my writing heroes.)

  1. What’s something you learned at FWA 2014 that has since affected your writing?

I was really bowled over by two sessions I attended—one on writing LGBTQIA characters and another on New Adult fiction—and I’m going to take a stab at writing a coming-of-age novel about a LGBTQIA protagonist. We’ll see how it goes!


Okay, so I think the schtik with this Liebster thing is I’m supposed to tag a couple of other bloggers. I don’t know a lot of other bloggers who are into the same things I am, but I do know a few, and a couple of them were willing to blog with me. But because all of us have day jobs and families, I’m going to cut them a break and ask only five questions. (Aren’t I nice?)

So, Amber & Michele, this is what I want to know:

  • Describe your worst holiday disaster. It can be anything: a cooking misfire, a travel debacle, a perfect gift that went horribly awry. The funnier the better.
  • If you could be someone else, somewhere else, at some other time in history, who would you want to be?
  • Is there a kind of book or story you want to read but can’t find? (Think of a MSWL/manuscript wish-list but for readers, not agents or writers.)
  • How has technology helped or hindered your writing efforts?
  • What aspect of writing do you struggle with the most?

Moral Injury: What Leaders Don’t Mention When They Talk of War

Excellent article on moral injury…

ARMY Magazine

By Lt. Col. Douglas A. Pryer

I received a Combat Action Badge because, for a short time in Iraq, I seemed to be a magnet for enemy fire. Years later, explosions still cause me minor discomfort. The sounds of fireworks, gunfire and engines backfiring are unsettling. But was I traumatized by enemy fire? No, I was not.

What caused me to suffer some symptoms associated with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) does not actually meet the criteria in the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders for this condition. My most significant combat experiences are sewn together with a thread other than extreme, life-threatening violence. This thread is moral dissonance. It is clear to me today that I and others sometimes failed to make wise choices. To our shame, we should have known better.

AUSA Join Button

A growing number of mental health experts argue for the existence of a condition…

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When will attitudes catch up to the science? TBI, sports and machismo

A couple of years ago, my husband and I attended a college football game.

Midway through the game’s second quarter, one of the home team’s players went down after a hard hit. The whistle blew, the trainers ran out on the field, and for several minutes the crowd and players watched as the staff tended to the injured player. Not long after, the player got up and, with some help made it off the field.

I was stunned when the same player who couldn’t get off the field without help in the second quarter jogged onto the field in the third. For years, the medical establishment has been warning parents and coaches to take sports neurotrauma seriously, counseling them to keep any player exhibiting signs of concussion on the sidelines for the rest of the game. The player in question had his bell rung hard enough that he couldn’t walk without support, a clear sign that he may have suffered a concussion in the hit—yet the coaches let him go back in the game in the next quarter! It’s not as if the collegiate football community isn’t aware by now of the risks of concussions and neurotrauma, and it’s not as if the player’s college as an institution isn’t aware. The knowledge is there.

So why did this young man go back into the game?

I don’t think the reason has anything to do with knowledge of the science, but rather with social attitudes.  In many of the fields of human endeavor where brain injuries are common—sports, law enforcement, construction and industrial trades, and of course the military—there is a culture of machismo. Of course, women have entered into all of these fields, but in all of these areas, a culture of masculine toughness still prevails that privileges endurance, resilience and self-sacrifice over caution and self-care.

Team sports in particular commonly posit a warrior ethos, and players feel a commitment to their fellow players to grind through adversity for the benefit of the group. Even if the coaches aren’t pushing players back into the game, the players themselves may be reluctant to sit out lest they appear weak or wavering in their commitment to the team. And so players ignore their bodies’ own warnings (never mind those of the medical establishment) and “play through,” which in countless cases leads to longer healing times and repetitive traumas that are more damaging than the original injury was.

“Playing through” puts a player’s health at risk. Players should be assured, both by coaches and fellow players, that’s okay to sit the rest of the game out after a hard hit. Self-care is no dishonor. A warrior who takes care of his mind and body lives to fight another day.

The science is there—it’s the attitudes that need to change.

Short story: “Medic”

“Medic!”

Coates heard the call moments before being momentarily deafened by the thunderous crack of a rifle being fired by a private who fell into the sand behind him and knocked him to his knees. As he was struggling to his feet, a mortar exploded ahead of him, spewing sand and shrapnel in all directions. He heard a clink as something hit the top of his helmet. He did not have to look behind him to know that the private was dead, as he could see out of the corner of his eye that his M1 lay on its side in the sand, a smear of blood on its stock.

“Medic!” the voice screamed again. “Mehhh-dic!”

Coates wiped the sweat from his upper lip and lunged forward, raising his arm to shield his face from another spray of sand thrown by a bursting mortar shell.

“Medic, God-dammit!”

He took several long strides, stepping over a corporal laid face-down on the bloody strand, his motionless shoulders draped with a garland of .30-cal ammunition and a deck of playing cards, still in their box, laying nearby. Coates pushed his helmet back and lunged forward.

“Medi—!”

Coates saw the first sergeant writhing in the sand, clutching an empty, shredded left sleeve with his right hand as blood pulsed between his fingers. “It’s okay, Top,” he said as he dropped to his knees and gently put his left hand over the sergeant’s. He reached into his medical kit with his right hand and—without looking—retrieved a tourniquet and forceps.

“Mother fucker!” the sergeant spat, his lips curled in anger and his eyes wide with fear as he watched the blood dribble between his fingers and down his forearm.

Coates worked to staunch the bleeding, tying the tourniquet tight around what remained of the first sergeant’s upper left arm, as the old non-com grimaced and bit down on one of the chin straps dangling from his helmet. Once the tourniquet was applied and the bleeding had stopped, he turned and reached back into his bag.

“How you doin’, Top?” he asked as he fumbled for a morphine syrette.

The gray-headed sergeant wriggled in the sand and grunted, “I’m alrigh—”

As Coates turned back to him holding the syrette’s plastic cap between his teeth, a bullet passed through the first sergeant’s throat, just below his Adam’s apple, puncturing his windpipe. The old sergeant wheezed. Clutching at his throat with his one remaining hand, his lips moved but no words came out. Just then, as Coates reached for the sergeant’s neck, another burst of machine gun fire crackled down the beach with a fwip, fwip sound. The medic heard a thud and felt a spray of crimson in his face. Top was dead, his temple shattered by a German round.

Coates put the cap back on the syrette and tucked it into his pocket. He looked at the tourniquet still tied around the sergeant’s stub, then shook his head and clambered over two more broken bodies to continue advancing up the beach.

That night, after the first elements of the American landing force penetrated the German beach defenses and pushed beyond the beachhead, Coates collapsed in exhaustion outside of the battalion aid station. All around him, the roar of trucks and half-tracks was punctuated by the sounds of nearby fighting: the pattering sound of a distant machine gun, the crackle of rifle fire and the faint punch of mortars being spat from tubes followed by an explosive thunk as they found their mark. He heard the moans of men in the hospital tents behind him and the unmistakable sound of a bone saw.

His head pounded and, despite his utter exhaustion, he could not sleep.

Screams. Shouting. The crackle of an MG-42 sweeping the beach.

“Medic!”

Mortars exploding. The distinctive pa-ching of an M1 clip as it is ejected from the breach.

Screams.

He could see what looked like lightning behind the trees in the distance, but without the thunder.

Coates reached for his chest pocket, groped for a cigarette, then realized he had none. He had smoked most of them before boarding the landing craft and given the rest away to injured men. He felt something, then paused for several long moments.

Screams.

He pulled the syrette from his pocket, pulled the cap off with his teeth, broke the metal seal and removed the wire pin. He rolled up his sleeve, felt for a vein, then slipped the needle under his skin at a shallow angle, squeezing the collapsible metal tube until—

A euphoric rush of lightness swept over him as he watched the light show along the horizon to the east.

The rush reminded him of the afternoons spent swinging from an old tire hanging from the oak tree, and of the weightlessness felt as its arc swept him down to earth into his sister’s arms.

Florida Marine’s suicide sparks mom’s efforts to call attention to PTSD

Florida Marine’s suicide sparks mom’s efforts to call attention to PTSD

For months after U.S. Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Janos Lutz took his own life, his mother found the pain unbearable and growing worse.

“I was spiraling down, sometimes not able to get out of bed,” said Janine Lutz of Davie. “I just hurt too much.”

On Sunday morning, one year to the day that the combat veteran died at 24, Janine Lutz was surrounded by several hundred people, including many military veterans, who showed up at C.B. Smith Park to pay tribute to her son and the way she has chosen to remember him.

The occasion was the PTSD Awareness Ride, an event that has provided a focus for her grief while inspiring similar activities in other parts of the country to call attention to the toll of post-traumatic stress disorder on military veterans.

Lutz hopes the Awareness Ride will become an annual event.

“This honors my son and his service,” Lutz said of the several hundred participants, including many motorcyclists, who rode in a police-escorted caravan from Western High School in Davie, Lutz’s alma mater, to the park. “He’s got his brothers’ back even though he is not here.”

A machine gunner, Lutz earned a reputation as a hard-nosed Marine who survived hellish deployments while winning 13 service commendations.

One of those deployments was to southern Helmand province in Afghanistan, where he and his 2nd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment, fought the Taliban and suffered several casualties.

“That deployment was serious, highly kinetic, violent, with firefights every day,” said George Todd Jr., 28, a Navy hospital corpsman who served with Lutz. “I remember him as a really fun guy, always pulling pranks, and a guy with a unique ability to be a very good Marine.”

When he returned to Camp Lejeune, N.C., Lutz underwent treatment for PTSD. The family’s dog, Kobe, joined him on the base and was trained as a service dog.

Back home, Lutz often showed signs of PTSD, his mother said, including avoiding crowds and becoming enraged. Still, in the weeks before his death, he was taking medication, in counseling, bicycling and enrolled in college.

“I didn’t know. I just didn’t know any of the warning signs,” said Janine Lutz. “John served five years, we knew he had PTSD, but we didn’t know what that meant.”

To conclude her remarks Sunday, Lutz held up a ceramic elephant, labeled with the letters PTSD, then dropped it onto the concrete floor of the shelter. The fall shattered the elephant and — at least symbolically, she said — the taboo on discussing what to many remains an uncomfortable subject.

“PTSD is the thing that nobody wants to talk about,” she said. “But we’re going to talk about it now.”

For more information, go to ptsdawarenessride.org.

mwclary@tribune.com

Copyright © 2014, South Florida Sun-Sentinel

Welcome

So, I started a blog. 

Why did I start a blog?

Well, for the same reason I am writing a novel: because I have things to say, stories to tell, and because this blog offers a venue to do that. 

This blog, and the novel I’m writing, is focused on the idea that the wars we wage go on long after the warriors we send to fight them lay down their arms and come home. The events of history have a half-life measured in generations. 

I’ll use this blog as a place to share ideas, articles, memoirs, images and statistics to illustrate the lasting legacies of war. 

I hope you join me on this journey. 

cm