Hot Link: Luke Mogelson Dispatch from Iraq

Oh Well (2) by Lydia Komatsu

“Oh Well (2)” courtesy of Lydia Komatsu

Once in a while, someone writes a piece of war reportage that will stand the test. The stars have to align perfectly — the right material, a friendly editor willing to deal with obscene word count, a lack of stronger competition within the issue itself — all this and more are the backstory to the most important pieces in the war writing canon. I’m talking about pieces like “M,” John Sack’s 33,000 word shot from Vietnam for Esquire, or John Hersey’s 30,000 word “Hiroshima” for The New Yorker. Even Mark Bowden’s original series of 29 (!) articles for The Philadelphia Inquirer that later became Blackhawk Down 

In the current fight against ISIS, the narrative no longer belongs to the U.S. military. Not in any meaningful way, anyway. That story belongs to the Iraqis who are putting it on the line.  Luke Mogelson bet 20,000 words on it, and I’d argue, hit the jackpot. I haven’t read a piece like this in a really long time. For you writers out there, pay close attention to Mogelson’s narrative stance: how he begins as a journalist, but ends with far more complicity. The strain is palpable in the writing. This is a piece you’re going to want to carve off some time, and some place quiet, to read this one:  The Desperate Battle to Destroy ISIS – The New Yorker.

Hot Link: Eric Chandler on O-Dark-Thirty

Oh Well (2) by Lydia Komatsu

“Oh Well (2)” courtesy of Lydia Komatsu

It’s strange when two vets from the same town, who participated in the same war, shake hands for the first time. Even more strange when it turns out they’re both writing about their time on the dusty fringes of the empire. And it gets super weird when both are endurance junkies.

That would be Eric Chandler and I, both from Duluth (I was born there while he retired from the MN ANG’s 148th Fighter Wing.) We met for the first time at AWP, after having conversed a few times over email and the Twitterverse. He’s got a great story that tracks the career of a fighter pilot, which just recently published with the Veteran Writing Project’s journal, O-Dark-Thirty, and I think you should check it out: The Dirty Dozen | O-Dark-Thirty

Reading War: David Abrams’ FOBBIT

FinalCover-330After I published my first piece and realized that this writing thing was something I needed to do, I grabbed every piece of war literature I could find. It was 2013, and I was coming late to the game. Figured I needed to catch up with how other folks were writing about my wars. And not just any folks, but veterans turned authors. Fobbit was one of the first books I picked up, mostly, I think, because of the title.

A “fobbit” is military slang for someone whose deployed job never took them outside the wire and exposed them to what we’d traditionally view as “combat.” Which, among the incredible number of those who have deployed in the past sixteen years, is precious few. Constructed from the acronym FOB (forward operating base) and “hobbit,” well, I suppose you can do the math. It’s a term of derision.

The book is a comic look at Iraq as viewed through the eyes of Staff Sergeant Chance Gooding, “the most fobbity of all fobbits.” But to call the book strictly comic, or satire, would be to cage it inappropriately. There are scenes that are laugh-out-loud funny –I had a brief fobbit deployment to Iraq in 2010, so the palace scenes are familiar to me — but Abrams, an Army veteran, understands that the prime mover in all of this is war itself. And as such, you can never really get away from tragedy: the original gangster of the war literature taxonogy game.

It’s odd now, to look back at Fobbit, which I read long before I called myself a nonfiction writer, essayist, memoirist. It’s odd because I wonder if shouldn’t have been reading more novels during my MFA. See, there’s this thing called “story,” and it turns out novelists had the thing licked a couple hundred years before nonfiction was considered an art form. It’s what Tom Wolfe talks about explicitly in The New Journalism: the idea that one could write a nonfiction story like a novel, and wouldn’t that be so much better to both read and to write?

This isn’t a ding on MFA programs — there’s plenty of useless diatribe out there should you want to invest time (I don’t) or ducats (certainly not) in the rhetoric — but in retrospect, I probably should have read in a few more works of fiction over the past few years. In building my reading lists, I was too focused: predominantly war memoir with a few grudging allowances for “regular” memoir, a few poetry books (war poetry only), and a handful of fiction books.

Normally, I draw a craft lesson from the books I talk about on this blog. But in this case, it’s a bit more personal and on the nose, which speaks to the quality of what David Abrams wrote: read more fiction, dummy. It can only help.

Buy the book on Amazon.