Coming home from war is a profound experience. I remember when I came home from Desert Storm — March 1991 — and it was like I was in shock. Except it wasn’t either. My reality was so different from when I left in October, 1990. It hardly seemed like the six months it was. It was almost like I’d beamed down in a different time and place.
And there really wasn’t much for me, as a woman who went to war. China Beach, a TV show about women during the Vietnam War, had just been cancelled and had gone into reruns.
I devoured all of the episodes and read the only book then available on women veterans, also Vietnam. But the months following were very hard. I wanted something for me, and it seemed like if it didn’t deal with the male soldiers, it was viewed as unimportant.
At first, I thought about venting in my writing. I’d gone over as a writer already, and here was this skill I could use. Yet, I couldn’t write non-fiction articles about my experiences because I was still in the service, and even setting something in a fantasy world didn’t get at the problem. It was like I couldn’t get the words do what I wanted them to.
I’d periodically revisit it, both as a possible non-fiction book or a novel, but it never went anywhere. For fiction, I couldn’t separate myself from the experiences. I kept wanting to write about specific events, rather than how events like them might shape a character. I heard that most of the war books start coming out after 20 years because time is really needed for that distance. Twenty-two years after the war, I think that’s true. It’s taken me that long to be able to write stories about being in a war. Not stories about my experiences, but take the perspective of a woman soldier or woman veteran and use that to shape a story like in The Sea Listens.
And I feel like I’m one of the few women writing about it, and I’m definitely the only enlisted woman soldier writing about it. What little I’ve seen is from either the spouse’s experiences, or the officer’s. I’ve been writing only for professional rate publications, but when the University of Nebraska asked for a call for submissions for their non-paying veteran’s anthology, I went for it because the women veterans need a voice, and it really is about time for us to be noticed.