The Desert Storm Memorial was looking for photos from in theater (which means in Saudi Arabia in my case) for a pair of videos they’re doing. I was digging around and found some from after the war.
In January 1991, the mail clerk passed me a flyer she’d received advertising a Desert Storm Writing Contest. If I won first prize, I’d go to Washingon, DC to receive the award from Barbara Bush. The contest was for fiction and poetry.
I instantly knew what story I wanted to write, though I expected it to get rejected. It was on a friendship that had just self-destructed because of the war. It was a very dark story, born out of the stress of war.
I also wrote several others, and a bunch of poems. The poems hold up pretty well, so they’re in my book Women at War: Stories and Poems.
And then I forgot about it.
We all came back and started back to normal things again.
One day, I found a transmittal stuffed in the training box and it was an announcement that the story had picked up an honorable mention. Cool.
Maybe about a week later, I was on CQ (Charge of Quarters; two soldiers man the desk overnight). It was a 24 hour duty, so my brain was always fried in the morning because I needed to bed.
And suddenly everybody was freaking out. They didn’t tell me why, but kept telling me I had to be in formation this morning. I was pretty sure it had something to do with the contest. But I let everyone think it was a surprise.
An officer came to present a plaque and a savings bond. I was chuffed. I was the only lower enlisted who had placed. Everyone else had been officers or more senior non-commissioned officers.
I was told at the time DOD would be publishing all of them in a book, but as far as I know that didn’t happen.
The story was called “A Loss of Innocence,” and it was the start of my writing veering into some pretty dark fiction. And I couldn’t see it myself until my writing group pointed it out. I also reviewed a book by Phil Clay that was getting a lot of press. He was five years out of Afghanistan and had written a series of short stories. They were so dark that I looked at them and didn’t want to be writing like that.
So I had to do a conscious shift to not go dark. It was hard in the beginning because I would get these ideas and as I thought about them, I knew they would go dark very easily. So I passed on a lot of story ideas.
Eventually, I was able to shift myself out of it, and then I was able to write my book, Soldier, Storyteller, which is available in the Rabbit Bundle Remembering Warriors. Check out the list of writers. I’m chuffed again to be published next to these big name writers!
The proceeds go to charity. The book is available for preorder, but will be available January 1. Start the new year donating to charity and getting books!