Vet Writing Online, cont.

I was happy to be in the Zoom audience this week for a panel discussion featuring Consequence Forum’s Matthew Krajniak, Wrath-Bearing Tree’s Andria Williams, and Military Experience and the Arts’ David Ervin. The event was set-up by Consequence Forum and Matthew hinted at future events, with the goal of making vet-writing journal editors accessible to writers of military-themed fiction, poetry, and essays, while demystifying the submission process.

An extremely worthy goal, imo. I’m often contacted by vet-writers who are unaware of the many outlets online for military, war, and conflict authors (how do they find me first, I wonder). So once more, a roll-call of some of the venues most open to aspiring writers seems appropriate: Not just the aforementioned Consequence Forum, Wrath-Bearing Tree, and Military Experience and the Arts, but also O-Dark-Thirty; War, Literature & the Arts, The Aiming Circle, The War Horse, and The Line—and I’m sure I’m leaving out others.

Everything Matthew, Andria, and David said on the panel is gold, so I highly recommend watching the YouTube video. I have a few speaking parts as well, between the 38:00 and 45:00 minute marks, if you are interested.

Great Andria Williams pull-quote: “They are sending you their imagination, and we have to treat that with respect.”

Quote from my Tweet re this post: “Vet journal editors are not gatekeepers or kingmakers, but care-takers of the war-writing scene.”

Relevant to it all are my opening comments from my AWP22 panel on Veterans Writing Online. There’s not only a mini-overview of the panel subject, but a look back at prescient article from the first Veterans Writing Project issue of O-Dark-Thirty from 2012:

Veterans writing in the 21st century came-of-age at the same time as the digital writing boom generally. The milestones are many, but we might start with the emergence of the soldier blog in Iraq, most prominently Colby Buzzell’s CBFTW (2004) and then later Matt Gallagher’s Kaboom (2007-2008). Predating both, we should mention, is the Iraqi woman blogger known as Riverbend, active from 2003-2007. By 2010, websites dedicated to soldier-writing were emerging as forces to be reckoned with by writers and readers within the war-writing community, as was social media. I remember Matt Gallagher from the podium at the 2010 War, Literature, and the Arts conference pronouncing that he “couldn’t imagine being a war writer today without having an online presence.”

By 2010, two long-standing print war-writing journals, Consequence Forum and War, Literature, and the Arts were both publishing fully online. The full emergence of online journals was to come in the following years: the Veterans Writing Project’s O-Dark-Thirty (2012), The Wrath-Bearing Tree (2013), and Military Experience and the Arts (2014), joined by The War Horse (2016), provided outlets for veteran fiction, poetry, and first-person narrative, as well as essays, artwork, and mixed-genre pieces.

To get a sense of what was going on in the early days, I went back and read the first issue of O-Dark-Thirty, from fall 2012. I was surprised to find an article that not only was on-point about the online writing boom, but was authored by an Army officer, Justin Platt, with whom I once served. The article, titled “The Words I Read,” is told by Jimmy, a young public affairs specialist in Iraq, who recounts a conversation with an embedded journalist. In the scene excerpted below, the journalist berates Jimmy for abandoning hard-copy books and magazines:  

“What do you guys read? Are war books still popular? You know I have written a few-just look [me] up on the internet and you’ll find most of my stuff. Too bad there are so many pirated electronic versions of [my book] out there. I’m just glad I’m not doing this for the money. It’s just sad, that’s all,” Gordon lamented.

We nodded in agreement. I double checked to see that my e-reader was stuffed completely inside my cargo pocket, as to not draw fire. But it was too late.

“I saw your PAO reading an e-book. And you too, Jimmy,” he continued.

“Yes.” I conceded, “we’ve gone over to the dark side…..”

By this time, the age of social media had fully arrived, impossible to ignore, and great fun and exasperating to equal degrees. It quickly came to seem that sites such as Facebook and Twitter were not just adjuncts to writing and publication, but where a heck of a lot of the action was taking place.

Lately, the Covid pandemic has intensified veterans’ writing online commitments. In the age of Zoom, the in-person vet-writing workshop morphed into an online phenomenon, adding one more fillip to a writing life that now seemed to take place almost entirely in the digital realm. Books and journals, workshops and writing conferences still exist, but are more nice-to-have than essential. Or so I’ll propose….

Finally, Charlie Sherpa’s Red Bull Rising blog post on the 2017 AWP conference in Washington DC, recently was brought to my attention. If you want to mourn the days when war-mil-vet writing rode high “in real life,” read the capsule descriptions of the sixteen panels featuring vet and vet-adjacent writers and try not to weep:

Red Bull Rising

3 thoughts on “Vet Writing Online, cont.”

  1. Thanks, Peter for the piece on veteran writing. I am an author and Vietnam War veteran. I have read many vietnam vets writing, webzines, books, novels, etc. I also published my memoir, “Yesterday’s Soldier”, about my war. I have read Phil Klay, Matt Gallagher, Eliot Ackerman and Adrian Bonenberger. I am amazed how different the military is today, and yet still is the same fifty years later.

    1. Thanks, Tom. Vietnam War novels, poetry, and memoirs strike me as more often about combat than Iraq and Afghanistan novels. They are also marked by more furious contempt for the Army and the government, and sometimes the country, than Iraq and Afghanistan writing. Just my impressions, and there are both many connections between the two bodies-of-writing, as well as exceptions to the trends.

      1. Peter, there certainly are many Vietnam books and novels about combat and anti military themes, but there are books which reflect upon what the writer’s military experience has done to affect one’s life, I am thinking of Matt Brennan’s “Broken Helmet”, Tim Obrien’s “In the Lake of the Woods”. Remember, Iraq/Afghanistan was fought by folks who signed up, enlisted, while Vietnam was during the selective service era. People like me were faced with involuntary military service during a war, and had to make a choice, get drafted, sign up or run Canada. I chose to sign up. Different times, different societal pressures.

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