life

Georgia On My Mind

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GADamn. It’s been almost…two months…since I got back from Korea. And I’ve been back at work since this time last month. It’s good to be back. Now that my year overseas is done and the dust of the place has been thoroughly knocked from my boots, I don’t mind telling you folks that out of almost fourteen years in my chosen career, August ’13-August ’14 was the most challenging twelve-month stretch ever. And I don’t mean “challenging,” like Basic Training was challenging. I mean that I swear to Sweet Baby Jesus that 90% of the people I dealt with all year were “challenged,” if you get my meaning.

So, yeah, I’m real happy to be back in Georgia. My family never left, and I walked right back into the same house I left a year ago. I’m still waiting on my household good to arrive from the port in Savannah, but unpacking is going to be an afternoon’s worth of work, rather than the couple weeks a normal military move entails for my family. I have six years left in the military, and if prayer or magic is real, I’m going to finish out my career in Augusta and move right into a new civilian job–that is, if I can’t make my share of the household money between writing and my pension.

If you’d told my ten-year old, dyed-in-the-wool, New Yorker self that I was going to fall in love with a Southern state and decide to hang my hat there, I don’t know if I’d have believed you. But it stands to reason–when I was a kid, I was locked down pretty tight by an over-protective mother, and we were poor, and we lived in the ‘hood (so really, my mother probably had the right idea, after all). So it’s not like I really had a chance to fall in love with Rochester–I love a fair amount of folks from there, mind you, but I don’t even know if I’d find my way around the city without GPS, these days. Meanwhile, in Augusta:

  • I live five minutes away from a great, downtown, indie arts community with coffee shops, galleries and places to hear local musicians–and perform, if the bug hits me. That my wife has a ten-minute drive to work and my son’s school is the same distance in the other direction isn’t too shabby, either. There’s also a fair amount of regional-level geek activity, so I’ve begun looking for more closer, smaller conventions to attend in addition to some of the larger ones that draw people from all over the US and beyond. Combined with my increased output this year, I’m hoping this takes my level of readership to another level.
  • I’m able to get involved in local doings more than I let myself during my first three-year stretch. Military families tend to not get very close to the communities they’re living in, simply because they know their stay is temporary. But now, it’s not impossible for me to stay right here until I retire. Six more years isn’t a statistical improbability, especially given a few of the duty position shifts I can make across different units, with help from human resources folks. So my wife can pursue a career without worrying about pulling up stakes, and we’re buying a house early next year. I’ll be able to build strong relationships with folks and parlay that into a second career once I get my honorable discharge. I didn’t have this sort of “normal life” when I was growing up, much less as an adult in the military.
  • I’m settled back into an accustomed routine, with resources to help me learn some new tricks. I’m right back in the unit I left when I moved to Korea, but doing a different job. So I’m stimulated by new things to learn and do, but not completely lost at sea because I’m still training new recruits. Being able to jump right back into something familiar has helped me get back to work on the new novel, which I’m loosely describing as “a serial killer’s memoir.” And, while being in the Army means I’m not guaranteed writing time at the same time each day, I’ve been working with a psychologist, through a military program, on establishing particular habits and behaviors that will let me get into the “writing zone” on demand, no matter the time of day. I’ll be writing about that in more detail at some point, either here on my blog or for one of the larger websites I’ve pitched a column to, but for now, let me just say I’m already seeing results.

So, as much as last year sucked to the max, I’m kicking off Fiscal Year 2015 in one of the most heightened states of hopefulness I’ve ever been in. Augusta’s grown on me, and now, I figure I have a chance at growing on it.

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The Writing Warfighter

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I work hard to keep a wall between the different aspects of my life. I don’t want my family to be plastered all over my website and public profiles to such an extent that my wife is accosted by nutjobs at conventions if all my hard work pays off in notoriety. The clients of my family’s side business may not enjoy zombies, serial killers and such. Military operational concerns (and the plain ol’ desire to not want to deal with it when I’m home) necessitate minimal revelations to the public about my career in the Army. That last one, though, is sometimes that hardest one to keep separate.

My military life coincides with my writing life more than anything else. Most recently, this was brought to mind by Drew Williams’ recent guest piece on Brian Keene’s blog. Drew solicited personally inscribed signed books from a number of genre authors, then sent the box of 32 books oversea’s to a buddy’s troops in Afghanistan. You should read the whole blog entry, but for those with limited time, here are the names involved, because you should totally support them with your cash:

Kim Paffenroth, Cody Goodfellow, Harry Shannon, Nate Southard, Michael Laimo, Maurice Broaddus, Bob Freeman, John Skipp,  Steven Shrewsbury, Gene O’Neil, Scott Nicholson, Tom Piccirilli, Brian Knight, Mike Oliveri, Gord Rollo, Lee Thomas, J. F. Gonzalez, Mort Castle, Kelli Owen, Brian Keene, Mark Rainey, Nate Kenyon, Sephera Giron, M. Stephen Lukac, Bryan Smith, Elizabeth Massie, and Weston Ochse. (And a second thanks to Brian Keene for letting me borrow his blog and one to Brian Knight for finding a few extra “RARE”ities!)

Reading this got me to thinking about a similar experience, which I shared in the comments on Brian’s blog. I started my writing career while on a FOB in Afghanistan, and a few months after I began making friends in the horror community, Ms. Fran Friel, a lovely person and outstanding Stoker-Nominated author, conducted a similar drive to send books for me. I got a box of probably twenty or so books later that month. I read my first books by Gord Rollo and Stephen Mark Rainey that way, amongst others, and I’ll never forget that amazing display of generosity.

That was just the first of many overlaps. During my last deployment, to Qatar, I stumbled across a Permuted Press anthology, ROBOTS BEYOND, in a random pile of books in a barracks common area. Having reviewed a number of Permuted titles and being on friendly terms with several of their authors, I was tickled to find this. I ended up submitting a story to the editor’s next antho, as a matter of fact, and it was shortlisted (I’m still not sure when, if ever, that antho is coming out, but I can’t wait to read it). It was so nice to have a little taste of home that I didn’t have to chase down. I also have a few older Dorchester titles, procured from a lending library, that I still haven’t read.

During that same deployment, I made friends with an Airman while riding the post shuttle. He also was a writer, and had recently self-published a novel through Createspace. He only had a few weeks left on his deployment when we met, but we killed a decent amount of free time together. Not only did I advise him on a way to break his series down to make it more palatable to editors, I also recovered the entirety of the EIGHT THOUSAND DOLLARS he gave Booksurge in return for shitty editing, cover design and book production.

I wrote the bulk of the stories that would eventually become MAGICK & MISERY and DESPAIRS & DELIGHTS while deployed to Afghanistan. I wrote the entirety of WILD while deployed to Qatar.

I gave a powerpoint presentation on the small press to a group of soldiers in order to obtain my instructor credentials at the US Army Signal Center. I penned an essay on military service as a support system for creative efforts while in a leadership course. I’ve gotten a lot of mileage out of that piece, and its work probably still isn’t finished.

I’ve met an astonishing number of genre stalwarts who formerly served or are still on duty, either in the regular army, the Guard or Reserves or as government employees. They include, in part, Brian Keene, Weston Ochse, Bryon Morrigan, R. Thomas Riley, Jeffrey Wilson and Tim Deal, among others. I know I’m forgetting several.

I’m grateful for the occasional intersections my military life makes with my writing life. It’s important to keep them separate for the most part, both because of national security and the preservation of my sanity, but I’ve also met some great people because of crossed paths. It’s even opened a few doors for me, because if American soldiers past and present comprise approximately 1% of the United States population, horror authors publishing while on active duty are an even smaller, and sometimes fascinating, segment. Most importantly, I’m grateful to have a respected and honored career with which to pay the bills and support my family while pursuing my dreams.

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