Okay, so I didn't reach that 50k goal.
But November was far from a loss.
Red's story is sitting just past the halfway point. I have a solid framework of where it's going and how it's getting there. I just need to find the energy and inspiration to write it. And...that's not a thing that will happen this month. My momentum dies every year around this time. It's inevitable.
I'm planning to reach the fin for her story during the month of January. It was one of the projects on my "To Write" list for 2014. Or was that 2013. I don't recall. I've been sitting on it so long, if it had been plant life we'd be dealing with diamonds right about now.
Actually, I think that particular analogy is best allocated to my old trunk novel, DC. Whose first volume has been lurking in a shadowy corner of my psyche for the past year, draft completed and just...waiting.
For the time to be right. And soon, I think.
First, though, I want to finish with Red's story. And I have another step I want to take first, too. I don't want that epic series, with my enormous investment of time and emotion, blood and sweat and tears, to be my first foray into self-pubbing. So.
I'm going to self-pub a reinvention of Blood & Peyote. I think the story the boys originally tried to show me deserves to be seen, because it's the way it should be told. It's not a story that many publishers would seriously consider, what with the multicultural mysticism I plan to build upon, the graphic violence which will only get expanded upon, and the religious and spiritual drug use that deserves more space and proper justice.
So, yes, the story of Apisi Howling, Chartreuse Beaudrou, and their squad, will be in the very least a novella if not a full-length novel, and will mark my first foray into self-publishing.
As a writer, I enjoy taking the reader outside their comfort zones. And sometimes, so deeply inside them that their zone flips inside out much like a sea cucumber expelling its intestines.
Red's story, for instance, will revisit the first person present tense style of Blacker Than Black, a POV style so deep that its confining blindness disturbed and turned off some readers. It's quite fun, as a writer, to find ways of encouraging the audience to consciously acknowledge their discomfort, the shifts of perspective and perception that maybe open their eyes to something else beyond the art itself. I'll admit that I don't have visibility to the moments of self awareness that follow days or months later, but I hold out hope they occur.
Granted, Red's story engages a slightly looser POV, as the narrator is more actively focused outward than inward. The narrator is a wholly different sort of character than Black was, and that difference shows in myriad ways. Including their perceptions of Red and Blue, Black and Garthelle, their collective and individual presumptions and expectations. I'm having fun with it, but it's certainly not an easy story to write.
Not that Api and Char's story was easy to write. Or that the expansion of it will in any way be easier. War is ugly; a dirty, nasty burden that soldiers step forward and volunteer to carry on our behalf. The moral injuries inflicted upon them through the course of their service, however, are not a burden they should carry alone. As the curator of soldierporn.tumblr.com, a blog that focuses exclusively on military personnel, their experiences, ethos, sentiments, and plights, I remain firmly dedicated to the belief that we, the civilian population, have both a duty and a responsibility to listen to the stories and experiences of those that wage war at the behest of politicians we vote into office. Their moral injuries are ours to bear.
So when I write of military personnel, when I forge characters from the recesses of my mind and fashion them into a story, I'm incorporating intricate, tiny facets of every veteran I've met or spoken with. I'm incorporating shadows of the stories they've told, the experiences they've shared, the wounds they carry still. The combat medic who carried the spinal column from the driver of a VBIED through a field in Afghanistan, in search of the rest of the man's body [X]. The vet who mourns the loss of the brother in arms with whom he was closest, who died in a mortar attack while waiting to return stateside from Afghanistan [X] [X] [X]. The medic who remembers the names of every brother he worked on who didn't survive [X]. The Medal of Honor recipient who denies the label of hero and abhors any public recognition, the death of his comrades too high a price to pay, still too raw a wound to tolerate poking by random strangers [X] [X] [X]. The Marine who knelt in the dirt with his battle buddy as he took his last breaths, unable to say "I love you" to his boyfriend because DADT hadn't yet been repealed. The painfully fake cheer in the last words of a veteran, recorded on a voicemail to his brother in arms, before he committed suicide [X]. (This is just a small cross section. Check out the full archive of soldier stories I've collected over the years.)
I abhor the medical term of PTSD. It has birthed a stigma, a faulty and darkly tinted lens through which all combat veteran military personnel are viewed, this Rambo Fallacy that every last one of them is a time bomb with a broken fuse that can detonate at any moment. There is nothing wrong with them, there is nothing broken that can be fixed. An expensive cocktail of prescription drugs certainly won't do the deed.
They are different people, the chemistry of their brains has changed. They have Survivor's Syndrome, and they must get to know themselves all over again. Their sensitivities and tolerances are altered. Their personalities have changed. They have moral injuries from which it is impossible to heal or recover fully. They must each, following their own path, learn to live with the demons that have followed them home, deeply embedded shards of the battlefield in their psyche.
There is nothing glamorous in war, or warfare. Fetishizing the uniform in pornography and mainstream music culture is bad enough; portraying combat veterans as abusive, violent, damaged or unstable is outright harmful to everyone. The truth of the matter is that the in-depth training that accompanies military service guides personnel in setting aside the shackles of civilized humanity. When they return to civilian life, they are not retrained quite so exhaustively, or at all in fact, in how to once again regain that constrained mindset.
While being a soldier is in fact a job, military service demands an oath of sacrifice the likes of which no other form of employment demands. "To support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic, and to bear true faith and allegiance to the same." The part about following the orders of the President and the officers placed over them, as in keeping with the Uniformed Code of Military Justice, is tacked on after this important piece of the oath; like a hierarchy of ethos, in order of precedence.
Granted, there are other sheepdogs that stand between the sheep and the shadows that walk the night. None other walk the night to make it safe the way the military does, however. No others return home in pieces as often, physically or mentally or otherwise; no others sacrifice so much.
And so it is my passion and duty as an artist to portray with authenticity and realism the military aspect of the characters I create. I swear to pull no punches. I swear to let the reader feel the full brunt of moral injury to the best of my ability. I swear to you, the readers, that in no story I write will the uniform worn be presented as little more than a prop. You will have a glimpse of reality as best I can fashion it. And the blood and grit may get on your tongue; you might even choke on it. But in the end it's artistic portrayal. Unlike the soldier whose combat boots still carry the dark stains from the dead and dying, you'll have no reminders when you finish reading and walk away.