A group of veterans publishes an anthology of fictional tales of war
By Angela Barbuti
In the fall of 2008, at the Creative Writers House at NYU, a group of writers was brought together by their shared life-altering experience–they had all served in the military. What they didn’t realize at the time was that their collaborations would take shape into the first fictional anthology of war stories ever to be published.
Fire and Forget: Short Stories from the Long War, a collection of 15 powerfully moving short stories about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and their aftermath, was born from this writing workshop. After a year of sharing their work with one another, Iraq veterans Matt Gallagher, 30, and Roy Scranton, 36, came to the realization that their subject matter was worthy of a broader audience. They decided put together an anthology, and welcome submissions not just from their group, but from servicemen and women all over the world. In their quest for material, they reached out to veterans and veteran groups, which resulted in stories from writers in New York, New Jersey, Texas, Washington, Virginia, Montana, the Ukraine, and Iraq.
Their main priority as editors and writers – Gallagher is getting his masters in Creative Writing at Columbia and Scranton is working on his PhD in English at Princeton – was to find high quality writers.
“We decided we needed to find the best writers coming out of these wars, put them together to showcase that kaleidoscope of war, the different perspectives that have come out,” said Scranton.
“We were looking for storytellers, craft makers, people who viewed their writing as art,” added Gallagher. Being veterans themselves, the editors were more sympathetic, but also more critical, of the writing they received. Some stories even managed to surprise them.
“When these stories came in, we walked away the same way we hope our readers do – feeling inspired or disturbed, or hollow. I don’t think there’s any veteran out there who’s seen it all,” said Gallagher.
The men chose to keep the collection purely a work of fiction, although their writing group welcomed all genres.
“Fiction lets us bring out the consistencies and the universals that get at something deeper,” said Scranton, who just completed his first novel War Porn. However, the contributors’ real-life experiences certainly come through on each page.
“There’s a funny line between fiction and non-fiction when it comes to war,” said Scranton.
“The stories are fiction, grounded in our experience.”
Gallagher, who released a memoir Kaboom in 2010, said, “I think every writer in here wanted to do something more than just write a memoir.”
The stories in Fire and Forget focus on different aspects of a serviceman’s life in Iraq and Afghanistan as well as their life when they return home. In one story, “The Train,” by Mariette Kalinowski, the veteran protagonist rides the 7 train back and forth, once for a total of 13 times, as a form of solace as days become unbearable. Siobhan Fallon speaks from the perspective of an army wife who grapples with her changed husband in “Tips for A Smooth Transition.” In “Play the Game,” Colby Buzzell writes about the struggles vets have with finding work once they return from the service. His character gets a job holding a sign on a busy street for nine dollars an hour.
“It says something important about the complexities of the veteran’s experience in coming home. It’s easy to slap the PTSD label on people, but there’s a whole set of things you have to deal with. In the case with the protagonist in that story gets out of the army and he’s on the job market and his sergeant jokes with him, ‘What are you going to do, put ‘shoot, move, and communicate, on your resume?’ There’s no place for these skills,” said Scranton.
The editors also contributed a story each to the anthology, and hope their book will help bridge the gap that exists between civilians and the military. “There is absolutely a military-civilian divide,” said Gallagher. “The reality is now these veterans are back in American society. It’s up to all of us on both sides of that divide to figure out how to come back together again because it’s not a healthy thing for democracy to have them separate.”
The title of the anthology is taken from the term ‘fire and forget,’ which comes from weapon systems, usually missiles, in the military. Once these weapons are fired, they seek their own target and don’t require any additional guidance. Scranton said, “The title stuck with us because it really speaks to the double-edged problem we face with what to do with our experience at war. On the one hand, we are responsible to tell our stories to remind people what happened. On the other hand, there’s nothing most of us would rather do than leave it behind and move on.”
Join Matt and Roy at the Half King for a reading of Fire and Forget on March 18th at 7 p.m.
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