Dawn is coming up here in Radcliff, Kentucky: its 5:45 A.M. I can hear the rumble of the early morning garbage truck outside my window of my house. A few minutes later, in the distance, I can hear the boom of the cannon marking another day beginning at nearby Fort Knox. Otherwise, things are quiet in the pre-dawn of another warm, summer morning.
From my desk, I can see the rooftop of the Patton Museum. It tells the story of the inspirational leader’s mad dash across Western Europe in World War II.
To the right of the museum is the towered rooftop of the fortified vault of the United States Bullion Depository. It looks like a castle with the impression of strength and defiance surrounded by barbed wire fence.
Both are symbols of United States’ fortitude and power. I am surrounded and embraced in the American military-industrial complex even as a civilian.
I have been up all night trying to write my first book. My desk has books scattered across the top. I have organized stacks of files next to the books, more files and books are on the floor between my desks and chair. All are about the same subject: The American Experience in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Some of the books tell-all autobiographies from generals all the way down to privates. They give firsthand accounts of the wars at all levels.
Other books are Maoist self-criticisms where the authors note where they were error, and how their experience in either war caused them to stray from their beliefs.
They have all one thing in common- they all seem to have started with “pure” motives, they were eventually “soiled” by their war experience, and now the book acts as a type of confessional for sins committed in the name of service to their country.
Some of them are good and some are cheesy, all are interesting. The books allow for criticism and the questioning of ideology.
Admitting and learning from mistakes is important. It allows you to change course without looking random or unprincipled.
Writing about anything as intimate as war is like writing about a love affair gone wrong, it’s messy and complicated. If the account is honest, it is an educational tool. It allows both the reader and the writer to discuss what happened and what can be done better next time.
It is an open and transparent discussion to share knowledge, admit mistakes and talk about solutions. That is what I am trying to do in the book.
I am about five chapters into the book. The bloody product is the result of about seventy hours of sleepless, foodless nights and high speed editing. It has been a knife fight in a telephone booth. It is the only way I know how to get things done.
I have a self-imposed deadline of six months of trying to get the book done. It is absolute chaos. I am thriving and the book is slowly, painfully coming together. It is a labor of love. A wild mixture of misery and agony, I am loving every moment of it.
I use my office at home like a work-hole. I hold-up in my room until all hours of the night trying to find the perfect description of what it was like to go to war, to love and to have lost, and to come home again.
I have a powerful aversion of doing anything but telling the truth. My computer is a hobbled together Toshiba laptop bought several lifetimes ago before a deployment. It needs a software update, but the Word option is flowing just fine.
Parts of the book come from an assortment of interviews that were dictated into an app on my phone. Big chunks of my material come from my mad collection of books, articles and personal memorabilia of noteworthy things that happened in Afghanistan.
When I get writer’s block I start pacing the room, opening up random books looking for inspiration and drop them on the floor when I am done. I rush back to the computer to enter it into the manuscript before I lose the thought.
It goes straight into a cloud file every 10 minutes, so I don’t lose any of the important facts.
My home office looks like an academic meeting gone bad. I have 5 whiteboards that no one is allowed to touch- not that anyone else would care, lol. The whiteboard sessions help me to get into the weeds on the book and ask, “How and why are you writing this book?”
I thought of writing the book like a military strategy. I developed three lines of effort. One line was research. This included interviews and the checking of facts.
The second line was working on my writing skills. An undertaking of this magnitude deserved a good, solid storyteller to tell this great tale. The last was a systems approach to writing every day. This meant being honest and disciplined in everything I did.
As the sun begins to pop up over the horizon, you can tell we will have a blue sky on a hot, summer day. The lawn needs cutting, it is almost a foot high. The wood on my front porch is wet and mushy from the thunderstorm the night before. Kentucky gets hot summers and cold winters, but only a few inches of snow in December and January. This summer has been hot, muggy and wonderful and miserable all at once.
I better get back to work on the book. I have to edit the last few pages I typed. Huge chunks of it makes very little sense. This is the job in all its misery and glory. Miss you guys.