13 September 2012

Cheers from the Summit!

I hit the ground in Denver last night for the first Sangria Summit: A Military Writers' Conference. Even before the conference started, I'd engaged in multiple world-changing, mind-blowing, paradigm-shifting conversations.

I quickly posted to Facebook: "Send ammo ... and hyphens."

There are lots of people here from the Internet. We recognize each other, even if we've never met. I quickly lazed in on John Homes, creator of the lewd, crude, and nearly always on target "PowerPoint Ranger." If you're not familiar with the webcomic, think "Beatle Bailey" meets "South Park." He'd just pulled a cross-country convoy of one—New York to Colorado, immediately following a 4-day National Guard drill. Some people embrace the suck, others drive it.

The Denver Press Club, by the way, the scene of our mixer for early conference arrivals? Full of history, artifacts, and stories. An original Ralph Steadman print. Clubby caricatures on the walls. An old Rocky Mountain News newspaper box, repurposed as a boom-box stereo cabinet.

And, most importantly: An open bar. (Yes, our hosts ensured that sangria was available.)

There, I met Antonio Salinas. He's a U.S. Army officer currently stationed at Fort Carson, Colo., a former Marine, and author of a memoir of his time leading soldiers in the Pech River Valley of Kunar Province, Afghanistan. "I kept a journal," he says over beers. "I wrote my notes with the ringing of enemy rounds still in my ears." He wrote a memoir called "Siren's Song: The Allure Of War", and is working on a project based on his post-deployment struggles.

"Some people drink, some people do drugs, some people work out and lift weights," Salinas says. "I became a womanizer ... It's kind of memoir, kind of erotica."

"Fifty Shades of Olive Drab"? I'd buy that. So would a lot of other people.

I found another friendly face and voice, however, whom I had met previously: Ted Engelmann, an U.S. Air Force veteran, world-traveler, story-teller, and writer-photographer (pass the hyphens!) whom I'd first met at this past summer. We both attended the inaugural Military Experience and the Arts Symposium at Eastern Kentucky University. While continuing his research into how other cultures perceive the Vietnam War, he's also hatching plans to embed as media in Southern Afghanistan next year. Just goes to show you: "Big Army, small world."

Bonus: During a break this morning, Ted just handed me a copy of "Objects for Deployment," an experimental book he'd published in 2011 through the Veterans Book Project.

More news as it happens, and as I'm able to write. Send ammo and hyphens. After all, "before the gardens, must come the fighting."

And the sangria must flow.


  1. Great post & it was great to meet you! I thought it was a lot of fun and frankly, I was pretty impressed with the level of speakers we had too. Happy writing!

    1. Likewise! We never got a chance to continue our conversation face-to-face—the break times were way too short--but I'd love to help out on your project. Let me know if / when I can be of service!

      In the meantime: Keep writing!


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