24 July 2012

Denver Event to Focus on Military Writing

Writers with interests toward publishing military-themed works of fiction, non-fiction, and poetry are invited to the inaugural "Sangria Summit: A Military Writers' Conference" Sept. 12-14, 2012, at the Marriott City Center, Denver, Colo. The event is sponsored by Victor Ian LLC, a military media and gaming business. The business publishes Lanterloon, an eclectic lifestyle, technology, and military blog; and has a physical storefront called "Dragons and Dragoons" located in Colorado Springs, Colo.

Bloggers and brothers James and William Burns are co-founders of the event. "I have an interest in creative writing," says James Burns. "Our game store customer base is largely military. Fort Carson is right next to us. The effort to know my customer led me to Carl Prine [Until recently, the blogger at "Line of Departure"] and Isaac Cubillos. I wanted to do something to help."

Lanterloon editor Isaac Cubillos, author of the Military Reporters Stylebook and Reference Guide, is serving as the Sangria Summit conference director.

“Just as there was an explosion of successful writers after World War II who wrote about the war, there are thousands of stories to be told by a new crop of writers after 10 years of fighting the War on Terror,” says Cubillos. “Today there are many avenues available along with the traditional hard-cover book publishers."

"We hope to help in the development of a new generation of writers who could be the next Tom Clancy ('The Hunt for Red October'), Wiliam Manchester ('Goodbye, Darkness: A Memoir of the Pacific War'), or another best-selling author like Chris Kyle ('American Sniper: The Autobiography of the Most Lethal Sniper in U.S. Military History')," he says.

Cost for the 2-day conference is $225. An early bird rate of $195 is available until Sept. 9. Registration includes all agenda material, special handouts, books, and lunch on Thurs., Sept. 13 and Fri., Sept. 14. The Marriott City Center offers a group rate of $179 per night. The conference will begin with an informal reception at the Denver Press Club from 6 to 9 p.m., Sept. 12. For more event registration details, click here.

Scheduled speakers and workshop presenters include:
Additional presenters are pending. A list of speakers at the conference is maintained here. Several book agents and editors will be on hand to critique works of aspiring authors, as well. According to organizers, there will be sufficient time to meet other authors and spend time talking about writing during the conference.

A Facebook page for the event can be found here.

Friend of Red Bull Rising and fellow mil-blogger Kanani Fong ("The Kitchen Dispatch") has posted an essay regarding the how and why of writing conferences here.

19 July 2012

Veterans Writing Project Launches Journal

Here's another takeaway from this month's Military Experience and the Arts Symposium—a resolution, of sorts, regarding claims of therapeutic value to the writing-down of military narrative: Unless a writing instructor is medically or professionally qualified to deal with issues of emotional or psychological rehabilitation for veterans, it's probably best to focus solely on the craft.

Veterans Writing Project co-founder Ron Capps is on a right and righteous path when he draws a bright line between his non-profit organization's work with injured veterans at the National Intrepid Center of Excellence ("NICoE"), and more purely literary pursuits.

(Side note: That's also probably why Emma Rainey, founder of Iowa City, Iowa's "Writing My Way Back Home," thoughtfully and quietly ensures she has an on-site counselor hovering in the background during writing workshops. Think of it as emotional dust-off, there in case a workshop participant trips on a painful memory, or reopens an old wound. The counselor is there as a one-time resource, however, not as part of an ongoing, medically supervised healing process.)

Properly administered and eventually supported with research, Capps says, writing therapy will likely take its place alongside other forms of arts therapy, in both clinical and non-clinical settings.

As a bonus, avoiding use and overuse of the "therapy" word opens the door more widely to those who don't perceive of themselves as injured in any way. Not every soldier, veteran, or mil-family member needs to engage in writing as emotional or psychological rehabilitation. Some of us just want to get our stories down on the page, to make better sense of them, and to pass them on to others.

That's why the Veterans Writing Project is also launching an on-line literary journal, titled "A War Story ..." According to the journal website, the effort will comprise both curated and non-curated outlets:
Initially, we’ll have two sections. The first, Sound Off, is an open scroll of stories by our friends and readers. These works will receive only the lightest of review by our staff, mostly for content (some subject matter isn’t appropriate for all readers) but occasionally for spelling or grammar, etc.

The second is our quarterly literary Journal, called The Review. All works submitted to A War Story will be considered for publication in the journal. Works accepted for the journal will undergo a rigorous review process by our editorial board and may require some back and forth between the editors and the author. We seek work of the highest literary quality for this section.
Year-round, the project will accept submissions of previously unpublished poetry, fiction, and non-fiction (including memoir and profiles). The journal acquires first-time North American rights, which revert to the author following publication. Simultaneous submissions are acceptable, provided notice is given of pending publication elsewhere.

The first edition of The Review is scheduled for release on Nov. 11, 2012, which is Veterans Day (U.S.).

Writing coaches, non-profits, editors, and others who are interested in engaging veterans through the arts would do well not only to look at the Veterans Writing Project curriculum, but also to how it is avoiding general claims of offering a therapeutic function.

After all, "Writing can be therapeutic, but it ain't a therapy." For most of us, at least.


The Veterans Writing Project is conducting a free 2-day writing seminar for veterans, service members, and mil-families Aug. 4-5 on the campus of George Washington University, Washington, D.C. Attendees are responsible for travel, food, and lodging. For details, click here.

17 July 2012

Notes from an Arts Conference

"People here need to realize they're not in the military anymore. They don't have to go to every class. They can give themselves space and time, if they need it," says Vera Roddy. Roddy is Air Force veteran from Wisconsin. Her Desert Storm battle-buddy's last name is Wild, so they refer to themselves as Rowdy and Wild. Rowdy's the only one who shows up to my second class—I'm teaching a basic course on mil-blogging—and doesn't even think she's in the right place. I put away the PowerPoint, and instead we compare notes.

In a place like this, every conversation is a gift.

The Fourth of July has fallen on hump day, a Wednesday, a middle of the week kick-off to three days on the Richmond, Kent. campus of Eastern Kentucky University. (Home of the Colonels!) The event takes place for three days from July 5 to July 7. Approximately 100 military veterans and activists, writers and poets, visual and performance artists have come together for the inaugural Military Experience and the Arts Symposium (M.E.A.S.).

The low-key, communal nature of the event is no accident. We have three squares. We have cots and roommates. We have hot or cold running water, although never at the same time. The vibe is part summer camp, part boot camp, and part workshop. Three days of presentations and performances, classes and conversations.

By the end of the week, insights and observations litter the floors like spent cartridges, and my go-to-war notebook is in tatters.

I meet Ryan Koch, a student and freelance writer from Eastern Iowa. He first joined the Iowa Army National Guard as part of the 1st Battalion, 168th Infantry Regiment (1-168th Inf.)—a 34th Infantry "Red Bull" Division unit—before he went active-duty and found himself in the 101st Airborne Division. He chats up my patch, and I chat up his. He was in Afghanistan the same time as the Red Bull in 2010-2011, and tells the story of encountering a few National Guard buddies while downrange. Big world, small Army.

I meet Suzanne Asher, executive director of Veterans in the Arts, a St. Paul-Minnesota-based (that's also Red Bull territory) non-profit looking to connect veterans with fine-arts practitioners. One of their objectives: To enable and empower art that's informed by war, but not necessarily formed by it. One idea I cheekily half-pitch to them? Underwrite a poet laureate or artist-in-residence position for the Minnesota National Guard. I'll volunteer to cover down on Iowa. And Jason Poudrier—OIF veteran, high-school teacher, and cuttingly funny war poet—can cover Oklahoma.

I meet Ted Englemann, a writer, photographer, and itinerant educator, who's spent the past 30 years negotiating the spaces among the United States, Korea, Australia, and Viet Nam. ("'Vietnam' is a war," he says, "'Viet Nam' is a country.") His passion is called "One Soldier's Heart." He calls Denver, Colo. a home base, because he rents a storage facility there. During chow one night, we learn that we have traveled similar paths in Afghanistan.

I meet Scott Lee, who drove a Bradley in Desert Storm and now drives a blog about living with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (P.T.S.D.). By the end of the conference, he has connected with Clayton Murwin, a Virginia-based graphic artist, editor, and founder of the non-profit Heroes Fallen Studio Inc. Their potential collaboration? A comic-strip based on Lee's attempt to train his dog as a service-animal.

In a workshop regarding descriptive techniques, Joshua Bernstein drills attendees on sense-memories from their times in the military. What are the smells, the tastes, the sounds you associate with war? Diesel and excrement rank high on our lists, as do chopper blades and rubber steaks. "It's amazing, but even with the Internet and people on the moon, how unchanged the experience of using an entrenching tool is—or carrying a rucksack," Berenstein observes. Among veterans, even the unfamiliar sounds familiar. Experiences cross borders. Bernstein, for example, served in the Israeli Defense Forces (I.D.F.). When he says "gunfire sounds totally different when heard in a foreign country," heads around the room nod north and south.

An evening's performance by Roman Baca's Exit12 ballet troupe explores themes of identity, revolution, and homecoming. The dancers move in ways familiar to any soldier. Baca's choreography is peppered with a military vocabulary of movement: A low-crawl ... someone taking a knee ... the hands-on-body technique we use to search our prisoners. I will never again view drill and ceremony in quite the same way.

Eastern Kentucky University instructor of English Jacqueline Kohl issues her workshop a point-by-point checklist for finalizing a manuscript. She calls it a "dash of the drill sergeant." Indeed, it is a reminder of what every pilot and squad leader already knows, and what every writer should remember: Pre-combat checklists work.

As important as these tools and insights are, however, it is Rowdy who unlocks for me an unexpected and recurring theme. As important as all the frisson and friction, the interconnection and shared "up with veterans" experience, is the quiet consideration of the spaces in-between. In Ron Capps' class on dialogue, the question is: "What's not being said?" In Ami Blue's class on deep-reading poetry, the question becomes: "What's missing?" In a discussion regarding art therapy, the presenter asks: "Who or what is not in the picture?"

"People here need to realize they're not in the military anymore ..." says Rowdy. "They can give themselves space and time, if they need it."

In a place like this, every conversation is a gift, meant to be opened.

09 July 2012

On Page and Stage, Event Explores Mil-service

More than 100 military veterans, artists, and community organizers participated in the inaugural "Military Experience and the Arts Symposium" on the Richmond, Kent. campus of Eastern Kentucky University, July 5 to 7, 2012. During the three-day conference, participants engaged in workshops, performances, and demonstrations regarding the communication and interpretation of experiences on the page and on the stage.

Highlights from the symposium included:
  • A performance by Exit 12 Dance Company, New York City. After exploring stark themes of identity and homecoming on an oppressively hot summer stage, company co-founder and Iraq war veteran Roman Baca lightened the mood in taking questions from the audience. One anecdote: "On my last day of [Marine] Boot Camp, I handed my drill instructor a manilla envelope with glossy pictures of me, from my last photo shoot as a dancer. I was wearing tights, and posing with a ballerina wearing a tutu." Baca has since returned to Iraq, conducting dance workshops with children there.
  • "Snapshot: A True Story of War Interrupted by Invasion," a one-woman play written and performed by Carmen Mitzi Sinnott. Relating her family's military experiences, Sinnott explores issues of racial and family identity, homelessness and homecoming. Her estranged father was diagnosed with schizophrenia following his service in Vietnam, and it took decades between Kentucky and Hawaii for Sinnott to track him down.
  • Release of the second issue of The Journal of Military Experience, a publication that presents veterans' words and works in poetry, prose, and the visual arts, along with scholarly articles comprising literary analysis, arts education, and veterans topics. The publication was founded in part by Travis Martin, while pursuing a graduate degree in English at EKU. Martin has continued his veterans activism as a doctoral student at the University of Kentucky, Lexington, Kent.
  • A reading by Emma Rainey, founder of "Writing My Way Back Home." In remarks introducing Rainey, Travis Martin credited Rainey's previous efforts at the University of Iowa, Iowa City, Iowa as inspiration for the symposium at EKU.
Approximately 1,000 of the more than 16,000 students currently enrolled at EKU are veterans or military dependents. "This university strives to be more than 'veteran-friendly.' We strive to be 'veteran-helpful,'" says EKU Director of Admissions Brett Morris, a retired U.S. Army officer who returned to the campus after once teaching R.O.T.C. there a decade earlier.

In addition to "military-friendly" ratings from various magazines, EKY administrators point to other campus innovations such as "Operation Veterans Success" and an 18-hour Veterans Studies multidisciplinary minor.

Veterans attending the 2012 Military Experience and the Arts Symposium were provided free lodging and meals.

The Stars and Stripes newspaper republished a local account of the symposium here.

For continued news regarding either the Military Experience and the Arts Symposium, or The Journal of Military Experience, click here.

04 July 2012

Anthologies, Contests Seek Mil-Writers and -Poets


A coalition of Missouri arts and humanities organizations is planning to publish an anthology of military experience of current and past service members, as well as their family members. The "Warriors Arts Anthology" is an extension of a project first publicized in late 2011 as the "Missouri Warrior Writers Project."

According to the project's website, the project editors seek:
First-hand perspectives and viewpoints by veterans, current troops and family members that give us a glimpse of your wartime experience. We’re looking for creative nonfiction, poetry, fiction, and high-contrast photos (to be printed in black and white) to document a unique time in our nation’s history as told by the original storytellers—the people who were a part of that history.
Send submissions to:
Warriors Arts Anthology
Southeast Missouri State University Press
One University Plaza – MS 2650
Cape Girardeau, MO 63701.
A contest with categories in poetry, fiction, and creative non-fiction (personal essay) is to be held concurrently. Prizes of $250 will be awarded in each category. Writers of fiction and non-fiction should submit no more than 5,000 words with each submission. Writers of poetry may submit up to 3 poems or 5 pages.

Writers can submit one entry in each of the three categories. Deadline is midnight Aug. 1, 2012. There is no entry fee.

Entries to the contest should be made electronically not later than midnight Aug. 1, 2012. Send to: upress@semo.edu

According to the project website, winners of the contest will be notified by Nov. 1, 2012.

For more information, visit the Warriors Arts Alliance here.



The Military Reporters and Editors (M.R.E.) association has announced new categories in its annual journalism contest, including one for personal blogs. Entered works should have been published between Jan. 1, 2011 and Dec. 31, 2011.

The contest is open to "print, visual, television, radio and online bloggers and journalists covering U.S. and non-U.S. military, veteran affairs, [and] homeland defense."

Entrants can submit up to two entries in each category. Association members receive one free entry. First entries are $50; subsequent entries are $25 each.

Contest deadline is 5 p.m. E.D.T. Jul. 31, 2012, or postmarked not later than that day.

According to the contest annoucement, bloggers should:
Submit cover letter listing a “live” URL to the entry and dates the story, opinion, slide show or video were posted on the Internet. Broken or faulty links will disqualify entry. Letter also should list writer, photographer or videographer directly involved in the producing the content. This entry is for personal blogs not associated with a corporation.
For more information, visit the Military Reporters and Editors here.



The deadline for a creative writing contest for U.S. military service members and veterans has been extended to July 15, 2012. The contest is hosted by The Iowa Review and made possible by the family of Jeff Sharlet (1942–1969), a Vietnam veteran and anti-war writer and activist. The contest is open to any service member or veteran writing in any genre, about any subject matter.

Entry fee is $15. Prize is $1,000 and publication in The Iowa Review.

Entrants should submit a double-spaced manuscript in any genre (poetry, fiction, creative non-fiction) of up to 20 pages. Work must be previously unpublished. Simultaneous submissions are acceptable, with conditions.

For more contest details and submission methods, visit The Iowa Review here.