From Combat Veteran to Horror Writer
By: Thomas S. Flowers
Before we start, there’s a quote from Michael Herr in his book, Dispatches that I’d like to share. It’s a long quote, so bear with me. Herr says, “I keep thinking about all the kids who got wiped out by seventeen years of war movies before coming to Vietnam to get wiped out for good. You don’t know what a media freak is until you’ve seen the way a few of those grunts would run around during a fight when they knew that there was a television crew nearby; they were actually making war movies in their heads, doing little guts-and-glory Leatherneck tap dances under fire, getting their pimples shot off for the networks. They were insane, but the war hadn’t done that to them. Most combat troops stopped thinking of the war as an adventure after their first few firefights, but there were always the ones who couldn’t let that go, these few who were up there doing numbers for the cameras… We’d all seen too many movies, stayed too long in Television City, years of media glut had made certain connections difficult” (Dispatches, 1977). My reasoning for sharing this quote from Herr is because, in more ways than one, it seems to sum up my feelings regarding my own experience in the Iraq War, OIF (Operation Iraqi Freedom), and writing/living with those memories today. Allow me to explain.
There seems to be a surge of “war stories” finding their way into the media nowadays. I’m in no way saying this is a bad thing; I wish there were more veteran writers. However, I have to be somewhat suspicious when I see books marketed as “another action-packed heroic tale of contemporary military service.” Such as from a Navy Seal’s perspective or some high ranked officer sharing their “retelling” of command with low fidelity storytelling. I’m not trying to be quip here, nor am I trying to call out any one individual. What I am trying to call out is similar to what Herr stated in the quote shared above. There seems to be this carnivorous appetite for war stories, but not war as it really is, rather war from a heroic narrative, or worse, war where soldiers are nothing more than pawns in a Mad Hatter’s political chess game. I feel these kinds of stories are for people who do not have a genuine interest in the reality of war from the perspective of, say, Joe-Shmoe from Littlerock, Arkansas. These kinds of stories are for people who want to be entertained, not enlighten to the cruel banality of combat.
For a long time, I didn’t write much about anything. A few poems, here and there, but nothing I was willing to share with anyone, under any circumstance. Let me tell you a little bit about myself.
I signed up for the U.S. Army in Sept 2001 and was honorably discharged in February 2008. Roughly seven years of service, including three tours in Iraq, 2003-2004, 2004-2005, and finally 2006-2007. The last tour was probably the hardest, not only was my deployment extended for the great 2007 Iraq War troop surge (Operation Arrowhead, I think), but we took more hits than in any of my previous two tours, and on top of that, I had someone other than my parents waiting for me at home. My wife and I had just met a few months before I deployed. She stayed with me the entire deployment. We wrote dozens of letters to each other, we chatted on the phone and on the internet, if either were available. She supported me, on and off the field. Being away from her was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. For the first time I couldn’t imagine myself dying and not being afraid. Not just for the circumstance (bodily suffering) but for the recompense of leaving her behind (emotional suffering). I didn’t want to die. I didn’t want to be robbed of this imagined life we could’ve had together. I didn’t want to lose that. And I didn’t want her to suffer for my loss.
In 2008, after being hounded by family to get into college, I finally agreed. I’m glad I did. Slowly, through the course from 2008-2014, I began to “open up.” Soon, I started writing again. I didn’t really want to at first, again, back to the “glamorization of war,” I feared any attempt to recount my experience would be a cheapening of it, a cheapening of other veteran’s experiences by attempting to sale my own. I didn’t want to do that, but I felt drawn to write something. My first attempt was a short narrative story. For this assignment I wrote, “There will be Ghosts,” which was my ode to both my experiences and the movie, “Born of the Fourth of July.” From there I dove head first into fiction-writing. I began a little science-fiction piece which never came to fruition, and probably never will. I consider these first works to be a learning curve, not something I’d want published. A dabbling, if you will, in the creative cosmos. When I left community college to enter the university (University of Houston-Clear Lake), I had to put my fictional writing on the back burner and focus almost exclusively on my history studies. While this may seem like a setback, I do not see it that way. My studies focused on 20th century Germany, namely the Weimar Republic and Nazi eras. I also took classes on the Vietnam War, Texas history, and the Civil Rights Movement, each class taught from the ground-up. This is a somewhat relative new way of teaching history. Traditionally, history is taught from the top, that is, from famous generals and presidents or other such impressive folk. From the bottom-up, history is taught from the Joe- Shmoe perspective, the everyday lives of everyday people. It was fantastic. A new way of looking at our world and the people that fill it by giving them relevance. In 2014 I graduated from the University of Houston-Clear Lake with a Bachelor of Arts in History… so now what?
Finally, I was able to get back to writing for myself and not just for, say, a term paper. I wrote two short stories soon after graduating. “Hobo,” and “Are you hungry, dear?” Both are horror in genre. And before you ask, “why horror,” let me be brief and just say that I’ve always been a fan of horror fiction, ever since my big sister let me watch “Night of the Living Dead” one Friday night. It made sense for me to gravitate to the genre that I felt more akin to. And besides, horror gives us the most honest and straightforward morsels of social commentary.
Reinheit was my first novel, published under the Booktrope imprint Forsaken. While penning Reinheit, I was able to develop my, what authors call, “writers voice.” When you read a lot, which is a must if you want to write, you kind of take on the voice of the authors you are reading. You need to write to chisel away all those voices, and hopefully find your own in the process. The more you chisel, the more defined your voice becomes, until maybe reaching some point when your aged and withered and giving lectures to a new generation of writers. Obviously, I haven’t reach this milestone yet. I’m still having fun with everything. Needless-to-say, Reinheit helped define my own voice and gave me the necessary encouragement to take the next step, writing my “war story.”
Again, I couldn’t write something heroic, though I know a lot of whom I consider to be heroic. I didn’t want to pass the war off as some grand adventure. I wanted to rip the decorum off war, the shininess of it. I wanted to bring audiences into the preverbal trenches of “All Quiet on the Western Front.” I wanted to bring an air of hardnosed poetry as Philip Larkin had done for his own generation with his masterpiece, “MCMXIV.” And above all this, I wanted to be direct and honest, no matter how hard or depressing that may be. With my pile of one-subject notebooks (yes, I write everything longhand before MS Word), a set out on this endeavor. Dwelling and Emerging were inked in about nine months, from paper to MS Word, and has recently been picked up by my new publisher, Limitless Publishing, LLC, who has brought those pages to life in a full length series called, “The Subdue Series.” Within the story is something real, raw, and utterly difficult. While hopefully still entertaining, because of the relationships between the characters, it was not written to entertain, it was written to discuss the reality of war and living with the memory of war, I wanted to talk about PTSD, anger, war-guilt, and suicide because these are discussions that need to happen by getting away from the myth and disconnect of combat and focusing on the naked ugliness of it and how we can live with those memories through expression.
While there will always be “those” books that do not give much substance to the echoes of war, I’ve been seeing more and more veteran writers coming forward from the trenches. There was a recent Vanity Fair article called, “The Words of War” that included a few of these up and coming writers of poetry, novels, and screenplays. I felt encouraged reading it. Seeing fellow veterans picking up the pen and expressing themselves. I’m proud to be part of this “Lost Generation,” as Elliot Ackerman, one of the veteran writers mentioned above, put it, “it might have been better to be part of the ‘Lost Generation’ than the lost part of a generation.”
DWELLING by Thomas S. Flowers
Subdue Series, Book 1
Publisher: Limitless Publishing
Release Date: Dec. 8, 2015
: : : SYNOPSIS : : :
A group of inseparable childhood friends are now adults, physically and psychologically devastated by war…
A horrifying creature emerges from a sandstorm just before Ricky Smith dies in battle. Forced to leave base housing, his widow Maggie buys a home on Oak Lee Road in the town of Jotham. Maggie is isolated in the historic house…and disconcerted by strange clicking sounds inside the walls.
Jonathan Steele attempts to drink the painful past away…
Jonathan was wounded in that fateful battle and now suffers from PTSD. He wants to put the nightmare behind him, but when Ricky’s ghost appears with cryptic warnings about Maggie’s house, he begins to question his sanity.
Bobby Weeks is a homeless veteran struggling with a lycanthropic curse…
Afraid of bringing harm, Bobby stays far away from those he loves. But after a full moon, a mysterious woman approaches him and reveals a vision about a house with a sinister presence, and he realizes staying away might no longer be an option.
Minister Jake Williams lost his faith on the battlefield…
While Jake will do anything to reconnect with God, he turns to vices to fill the religious void. But a church elder urges him to take a sabbatical, and a ghost tells him to quit the ministry, and his life is more out of control than ever.
When Maggie wakes in a strange subterranean cavern, she can’t deny her home harbors dark secrets. Desperate, she sends letters to her old friends to reunite in Jotham, and events conspire to draw them all to the house…unaware of the danger awaiting them.
The friends have already been through hell, but can any of them survive the evil dwelling beneath the House on Oak Lee?
MEET THE AUTHOR: Thomas S. Flowers is the published author of several character driven stories of fright. He resides in Houston, Texas, with his wife and daughter. His first novel, Reinheit, was published by Forsaken. He also has a short story, “Lanmò,” in The Sinister Horror Company’s horror anthology The Black Room Manuscripts. In 2008, he was honorably discharged from the U.S. Army where he served for seven years, with three tours serving in Operation Iraqi Freedom. In 2014, Thomas graduated from University of Houston Clear Lake with a BA in History. He blogs at machinemean.org, where he does author interviews and reviews on a wide range of strange yet oddly related topics.
LIMITLESS PUBLISHING: http://www.limitlesspublishing.net/authors/thomas-flowers/