Military Service as a Support System for Creative Efforts

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For Veterans Day, I dredged up a post from the previous incarnation of my website. Some of you may have read this before. For those who haven’t seen it, this is, essentially, my “secret origin” as an author. Everything below this dotted line is from the original post.

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Author’s Note: I typically keep my military life and my budding career as an author completely separate from each other. This is a choice that I’ve made; I could probably write the occasional essay or blog post on knucklehead soldiers I’ve served with or deployment hijinks, but really, I don’t want to bring my work home with me, and for me, writing = home. Army Lincoln is not the same as Author Lincoln (or Business Lincoln, for that matter).

Every so often, however, paths intersect, and I figure I’d share one with you today. This is an essay I wrote last year during Advanced Leader’s Course (basically, a six-week class on how to be a Staff Sergeant). We were instructed to write about any topic relating to our personal experiences in the military. Since the military is mainly responsible for the genesis of my career (and for supporting my family while I write on the side), a paper focusing on how the two intersect seemed appropriate. I didn’t want it to go to waste, so I figured I’d share it here.

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Abstract

My paper is about the manner in which I’ve meshed my military service with the beginnings of a second career as a published author. I’ve accomplished most of my work as an author simultaneous with my most important work as a Soldier; that is, while deployed. During the course of two deployments overseas, I’ve written the bulk of what eventually became two published collections of short stories and a novella slated for publication in January 2011 as a limited-edition hardcover and in March 2011 in paperback and digital formats. While I’ve been a writer in some form or another for as long as I can remember, the drive behind my dual careers is a promise my wife and I made to each other that we would not allow our time apart during deployments to be wasted.

Introduction

The purpose of this paper is to outline what I believe is a rather novel concept; mainly, that military service has the arguably unique ability to support creative people in the pursuit of their arts. Creative people, for instance, dancers, painters, writers and musicians, are typically forced into careers that use their talents to make their employers, rather than themselves, richer, or are else driven to careers outside of their creative interest in order to support themselves. People desiring to make their living in the arts generally have their back up against any number of walls; these include the creation of work “on spec” (that is, creating the art, writing the story, choreographing the dance, etc. and then attempting to sell it) and the rather problematic situation of being able to pay the bills, afford insurance, etc. when money doesn’t flow as expected or necessary.

Military service solves some of these problems. Stephen King, the famous horror author, tells more than one story of how a check from an editor arrived just in time to pay for his child’s medication, or a utility bill. A Soldier just setting his feet on the path to literary greatness doesn’t have such issues; I didn’t begin my career as a publishing author until around the age of 24, but had I done so at the age of 18, I’d have been able to provide medicine to my children without concern. It is practically a given that anyone attempting to be creative is more likely to be successful when under less stress. That the military provides a decent living (providing one has skills in the area of budgeting one’s funds), provides additional allowances for housing and food, and comes with insurance, is of immeasurable value, particularly in today’s economy.

Description of Events

I deployed to Afghanistan with the Tenth Mountain Division out of Fort Drum, New York in support of Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) in January 2007. This was my second deployment; my first was to Iraq in 2004. That first deployment was a complete waste, as far as I was concerned; not only did I return from combat to divorce my wife, who had spent all my money, but I’d done nothing to improve my life over the course of the entire year. I could have attended school, gone to the gym to bulk up, picked up a new hobby, or even written a book. When I wasn’t doing my job, I spent all my time playing music and video games and watching movies.

When I deployed the second time, I was newly married to my second wife, and we discussed how disappointed I was in my tour to Iraq. As a brand-new Army Wife, she was concerned about the survivability of our marriage and the strength of our relationship. The solution we came upon together was to make a promise to each other; that even though we were apart, we would strive to make progress in our lives so that the year apart would not be a year wasted. We accomplished several goals together (saving some money, buying new furniture and finalizing my adoption of my wife’s daughter) and my wife succeeded in a few goals of her own (finding a great job, completing her Associate’s degree and winning an award from the United Way). I returned to college myself and in addition, within a couple of months, rediscovered an old love: I started writing fiction again.

I’ve been a writer for as long as I can remember, except for the five-year stretch I spent with my first wife. I’d been published several times as a child and served as a reporter and student editor of a community newspaper with a circulation of over 10,000 during my senior year of high school, a position which led to an internship at the Rochester, New York, Democrat & Chronicle. I had several stories in various stages of completion stored in a lockbox, where they’d sat since high school, and sitting on my bunk in that humble Afghanistan mud hut with my laptop and a brain full of ideas felt like driving my car again after a year away, or like that first night back home. Having my first story in almost a decade win a contest and get published in not one, but two venues within months of each other was just the icing on the cake.

Not only did I write and submit several other stories for publication (all of which were accepted by a variety of print and online publications) throughout the year, I also accepted stories for, edited and produced an anthology of horror stories by other writers, all while serving as the night-shift supervisor for Bagram Air Base’s backup Joint Network Node (JNN). The anthology was published in December 2006 and while now out of print, was well received in the small-press community. The bulk of the stories written during my deployment to Afghanistan, plus a few written in the months following, became my first book, a collection of short stories entitled Despairs & Delights.

I continued to write when I redeployed to Fort Drum and after my relocation to Fort Bliss, Texas (where I lived at the time Despairs saw print). In 2007, I deployed again, this time with the 1-43rd Air Defense Artillery Battalion to Qatar. My wife and I made the same promise to each other again. A few weeks before flying overseas, I signed the contract for my second collection of short stories, Magick & MiseryMagick was published in August 2008, halfway through my deployment. My wife and I bought some nice stuff for the house, she completed her Bachelor’s degree, and I started working on a third book; this time a short novel, based on a real-life unsolved missing-persons case from the Old West, spiced up with gunslingers and zombies. I finished writing WILD the week I redeployed to Fort Bliss it was accepted for publication in September 2010.

In addition to writing the actual books, my work as a writer involves maintaining my website and social networking presences, scheduling book signings and meeting as many people in the industry as I can (online and at conventions). Since 2006, I’ve gone from a brand-new face in small press horror to an author who can sell limited-edition hardcovers of his work at a modest price, and to whom new authors come for advice. There’s even a reasonable chance that I can support my family with my writing after retirement. I firmly believe that none of this would have come to pass without my military service.

Outcomes

After four years of simultaneous work as a Soldier and author, I have three books either published or pending publication, a thriving interactive website that gets many hits a day and a small critique group of writers that read and comment on each other’s work (leading to the eventual publication of at least three other books to date by members of the group). Additionally, I began reviewing books by other authors in the genres in which I write, in order to provide additional content for my website. This in turn led to a contributor position at Shroud Magazine reviewing books and conducting interviews with other authors. I’ve made steady progress in the field; I started out writing short stories and having them accepted by publications that did not pay authors for their stories (the point of such publications is mainly exposure, and to get your feet wet as a new author). I now write exclusively for paying markets, and am being published by increasingly better-known markets.

My work as an author has also had a phenomenal impact on my military career. My focus and drive, as well as my increasingly well-honed communication and organizational skills, have led to two promotions in the past two years and a successful deployment as a Patriot battalion Tactical Operations Center (TOC) Battle NCO in charge of collecting and disseminating information to and from subordinate and higher level units. I also served as editor of the battalion’s monthly newsletter, supervising the work of a couple dozen officers, noncommissioned officers and Soldiers, editing drafts of articles and designing the layout of the newsletter itself, which was distributed each month to several hundred Soldiers and their Families.

Lessons

I have learned that military service only prevents a person from achieving personal goals if that person lets it, and that an Army career can actually be a help rather than a hindrance. I’ve learned that pursuing your dreams while serving as a Soldier sometimes requires a little creativity (I conducted a book signing tour in three states while moving to a new duty assignment, and have been interviewed on internet radio shows while deployed!) but that these exercises in creativity can help you as a leader of Soldiers, as well. I recommend that anyone in the Army who has the slightest interest in doing something with their Army life besides Army-related things pursue his or her dreams. It is not as impossible as it seems.

Conclusion

It only makes sense to make the most of the Army life; after all, the Army plans to make the most out of you. Setting goals for yourself will serve to keep you focused in the face of situations the average person can’t even imagine being in. Not taking full advantage of every resource you have is inefficient at best, and a failure as a Soldier and leader at worst. My experience has shown that a career as an author can thrive hand-in-hand with a career as a servicemember, and no matter what your dream is, you can succeed, maybe to an even greater extent than if you weren’t in the military.

Bibliography

AR 25-50, Preparing and Managing Correspondence, 3 June 2002

DA Pamphlet 600-67, Effective Writing for Army Leaders, 2 June 1986

Crisler, Lincoln, Despairs & Delights, February 2008, Arctic Wolf Publishing

Crisler, Lincoln, Magick & Misery, August 2009, Black Bed Sheet Books

Crisler, Lincoln, WILD, Publication Pending, Damnation Books

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