Just got back from my two-week annual training with my Army Reserve unit, and it is good to be home. Don’t get me wrong, I had a good time. In fact, it felt good to be back in uniform … maybe a little too good. It was right around the one-week mark, where I caught myself thinking about what it might be like to explore possibilities of returning to active duty, that I realized I might need to hold off on making any decisions until I returned home and had a chance to let the feeling wear off…
Which it is. As much as I enjoy putting the uniform back on and exercising a different set of skills than those of being a professional writer and caretaker of home and hearth, I made the decision to leave for a reason. Still, I’ve come to realize that I’m never satisfied doing the same thing for too long, and thus will always ever be tempted by the path not taken.
During these two weeks, I had a week off of my graduate school program, and I spent it reading. A lot. This AT I tore through the entire Richard Sharpe series (by Bernard Cornwell, as fantastic as I remember them), scarfed down the book LikeWar by Brooking and Singer, finished up Masha Gessen’s The Future is History, and topped it off with The Grace to Race, by Sister Madonna Buder. I then binge-watched all three seasons of The Last Kingdom, another Bernard Cornwell project, on Netflix.
Somewhere between getting back in the military swing of things, and the time spent in reading and concentration, I started to put together some of the pieces of what I’ve been trying to figure out with my writing. My first professional writing gig was as a 46Q, an army print journalist and public affairs specialist, and my mission was to “tell the Army story.” Fast forward to ten plus years as a commissioned officer, and a military police one, I find myself still trying to tell the Army story, but through the lens of fiction.
Sometimes, this is super subtle. I don’t think anyone realizes the fact that the Rick Keller Project is basically an entire series of me wrestling with what it means to find a place to serve. Frankly, I didn’t even realize that until I was about two-thirds of the way through. And yet, it’s definitely in there.
My most overt piece was a literary fiction short story by the name of Terminal Leave, which appeared in O-Dark Thirty, the literary review of the Veterans Writing Project. This is one of the few non-speculative fiction pieces I’ve written, and it’s likely to remain so. But some of the same themes I explored here turned up in an urban fantasy novel, Steel-Toed Blues, that I’m currently querying. No matter the genre, I can’t seem to keep the military, and my experience in it, from seeping through the cracks of what I’m writing.
Nor do I want to. The Army has been a large part of my life for about half of that life, for both myself and my spouse. Our kids are Army kids. I just got back from shopping at the commissary and sending a text to my troops about filling out their DTS vouchers and posting a note on Facebook in honor of a friend who was lost on this day several years ago. From the tragic to the mundane, these are the stories that people who serve live, and as a writer, these are the stories that drift through the part of my brain that twists them into whatever particular form they are going to take when I get them on paper.
As I sat and churned out my words for the day, then headed out to do the day’s errands, and before I head out on my run, I feel that the urge to explore options to return to full-time status is dissipating. Writing is what I do, and the profession I’ve chosen. Still, there is that small part of me that wonders, What if? But for now, I’ve got a novel to finish, homework to be done, some running to put on my Garmin.