20 April 2016

Women Veterans are Focus of New 'O-Dark-Thirty'

COVER: "Twoface," photo by
U.S. Marine veteran Magdalena Green
Always a good source for intelligence and trends in today's military writing, editors of the literary journal "O-Dark-Thirty" focused on the contributions of women veterans in their Winter 2016 issue.

The resulting 180-page issue surveys new non-fiction, fiction, poetry, and interviews written by women veterans. The print edition is available for a $40 yearly subscription, or $12 single-copy. The journal, published quarterly by the Washington, D.C.-based non-profit Veterans Writing Project, is also available to read FREE on-line as a PDF here.

In her introduction to the issue, Managing Editor Jerri Bell writes:
We weren't sure what kind of submissions we'd get, or how many. Since we began publishing, we'd only received a few submissions from women veterans. I could count then my digits and have a couple of toes left over. But the response was overwhelming. Not only did we have several times the usual number of submissions to consider, the variety and quality were unusually high. We decided to accept as many pieces as we could possibly print and run online in the month of February, and we still had to decline a great deal of excellent work.
Despite the exclusive theme, the journal delivers its usual high quality and wide variety of voices. Stand-outs are by personal preference—readers will no doubt find one or two particularly resonant, but I will leave that selection to each reader's own tastes. I will, however, share a couple that have stuck with me. One favorite, for example, is the poetry of Anna Weaver. A former U.S. Army parachute rigger, Weaver pulls the cord on some particularly punchy lines in "jokes with civilians":
[…] Our stories have sound effects—engine, rotor, shockwave,
unfolding canopy,
the soft exhale before firing.

Our memories have cadence and caliber, sector and arc,
drill and ceremony.
We cannot sanitize or explain.

Our jargon has no synonyms. Our alphabet
isn't made of letters. There is no signal
to tell you when it's safe to laugh. […]
In her non-fiction story "Wind and Waves," former U.S. Coast Guard officer and diver Tenley Lozano bookends a bracing story of sea duty aboard the sailing barque Eagle with quiet reflections of time spent hiking the Pacific Crest Trail with her husky mix, Elu. Under the surface lies more than a reflection on waves and hills, however. Instead, Lozano expertly tethers her tale to symbolism and tradition and technical details, providing readers not only with scenes, but lessons-learned. For example, she writes regarding a 2005 incident that caused injury to five cadets aboard Eagle:
[I]f the lifeline had been made of half-inch thick double-braid nylon rope and attached with a bowline knot to the bolt, the knot would have been able to withstand the stress of those cadets falling and simultaneously pulling on the rope. The point of failure was the metal clip, but the officers in charge of Eagle had forgotten their background as sailors and relied on metal clips and cables rather than rope or knots.
That is a wonderfully intricate paragraph to loosen, much less to untie. I have come back to it often.

In her short fictional story "How to make Bosnian chicken salad," former Army public affairs soldier Susanne Aspley offers a primer in what can only be described as lemonade journalism. Out of the mouth of a character lieutenant, Aspley offers the following editorial advice, and captures the reality of the job to a T-and-dotted-I:
Let's say you have to do a story on, well, a promotion ceremony, or, say, a bunch of guys pulling guard duty and all they're doing is complaining and moping around and they don't want to be photographed. No problem. Find a story. Everyone has a story. Even the pimply E2 with buck teeth who only joined for the free dental care. You don't have to be a combat vet with PTSD to have a story. They all do. We all do. So get them to talk, and find out what the story is.
The issue ends with a Q&A-style interview between editor Bell and Tracy Crow, the latter a former Marine officer and author of memoir, genre fiction, and non-fiction books. The 11-page conversation feels like eavesdropping on two writer friends having coffee, and is full of inspiring and insightful observations about writing. One example, from Crow:
I'm encouraged by the workshops I lead from time to time that so many women veterans are willing and eager to write about their experiences. Some are turning their experiences into short stories and novels, and that's fine. Others such as Kayla Williams, Miyoko Hikiji, and Jane Blair have produced what I consider to be important memoirs. Some critics, however, will philosophize that all the stories that could have been told have already been told. For example, how many war stories do we need?

As many as can artfully and authentically rendered, I'd say. Because every writer's voice is unique and reveals through the writer's choice of conflicts for her characters to her sentence variations to the formatting of her paragraphs. Every writer approaches a story through a personal lens of perception that's unique to that writer and based on that writer's life experiences.

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