Posted June 13, 2015
“A Little Boy’s Dream”
Posted June 13, 2015
“A Little Boy’s Dream”
I am pleased to introduce Tracy Crow, editor of the new anthology Red, White, and True: Stories from Veterans and Families, World War II to Present (Potomac Books, an imprint of the University of Nebraska Press).
Kathleen: Welcome, Tracy. Please give us a brief description of the book. What is the genre and who is your target audience?
Tracy: Thanks for this opportunity to introduce my newest labor of love!
I like to imagine the collection as a mosaic – in that individually, each story provides provocative insights about the impact of military experience, whether rendered directly or indirectly in the case of spouses and children or grandchildren – while collectively, they reveal something much deeper – something we’re just now beginning to understand: the cross-generational impact of the U.S. military experience from WWII to present, which includes such things as military customs and traditions, long absences, combat or training deaths, life-changing injuries –the physical and the emotional – and survivor’s guilt.
Most would assume RWT’s target audience is veterans. But because this collection includes stories from families, the audience quickly and considerably widened. As a former professor, I can also envision RWT as a college text for war/literature classes, women’s gender studies, and memoir writing workshops.
KMR: How did Red, White, and True come about?
TC: A dear friend, Jeffery Hess, is the editor of two excellent volumes of military fiction (Home of the Brave: Stories in Uniform and Home of the Brave: Somewhere in the Sand), and one day suggested that I compile an anthology of military nonfiction. Something about the idea immediately resonated. I began to imagine a volume of noteworthy nonfiction that would portray a no-holds-barred look at the impact of U.S. military service. Not just the impact on veterans but on families, too. I also wanted to approach the idea of how today’s military service might influence future generations.
When I couldn’t find anything on the market like RWT, I was ready to pitch the idea to my editor.
KMR: You have some impressive credentials. Not only are you a former Marine Corp officer, you are an award-winning military journalist and an author nominated for three Pushcart Prizes. What was it like to switch roles from being an author to an editor? Or have you done this before?
TC: Actually, switching roles from writer to editor is fairly easy for me. My writing life began in the late 1970s as a Marine Corps journalist, but during my ten-year career, I was often assigned as press chief or media chief – editing positions.
At the time I began work on RWT, I was the nonfiction editor of Prime Number Magazine, a Press 53 literary journal. I was also teaching journalism and creative writing at Eckerd College in Florida, and working as the adviser to our award-winning college newspaper, the Current. In my roles at Eckerd, I wore an editor’s hat: my job was to lead student writers from their shaky first drafts toward work that was worthy of publication in our newspaper or beyond, and in the case of my short story or memoir writers, several steps closer toward publication in a literary journal.
KMR: You seem to have a great rapport with the University of Nebraska Press. Did you get to work with the same editor or team of editors that edited your memoir Eyes Right: Confessions from a Woman Marine (Nebraska, 2012)?
TC: I’ll always be grateful to Ladette Randolph who was the acquiring editor at Nebraska Press when I submitted the manuscript of Eyes Right. The day I received her acceptance letter ranks high on my list of Best Days Ever. But a few months afterward, Ladette accepted an opportunity at Emerson. You probably know, it’s every writer’s fear to learn that the editor who loved a manuscript enough to acquire it has left, turning over said manuscript to another in-house editor; I’d heard plenty of horror stories. But I lucked out when Eyes Right fell to Bridget Barry, who delivered unwavering passion and compassion to my project. Bridget’s entire team at Nebraska is top-notch.
Soon after the release of Eyes Right, Nebraska acquired Potomac Books, which is a notable publisher of military titles. When I pitched Bridget my concept for Red, White, and True, she readily agreed the project had merit, and championed it before the board.
Right now, Bridget and I are wrapping up our third project together with the working title, “On Point: A Guide for Writing the Military Story,” in which I attempt to lead veterans and their families through the often emotional process of recording a military experience, whether for self-exploration, a family legacy, or for publication. We’re looking at a fall release for this book, but I’ll share that “On Point” has been the most challenging project of the three because of the mountain of self-doubt that had to be scaled every day. Bridget, thankfully, brought her usual passion and editing chops to the work, and the result for “On Point” is a military writing craft book that’s part memoir, part meditations and musings, and part writing maxims.
KMR: I remember the day I saw your call for submissions on the Military Writers Society of America Facebook page. I fired off an e-mail to you, inquiring if previously published work was eligible. You were quick to respond, and I immediately sent you my essay, “Remembering Forgotten Fliers, Their Survivors.” Did you receive an avalanche of submissions once your call went out? Where else did you place your call for submissions?
I wouldn’t call it an avalanche of submissions, but the work steadily flowed in for several months. Besides approaching the Military Writers Society of America, I reached out to college writing instructors within Master of Fine Arts (M.F.A.) programs who were working with veterans, and this step provided a handful of quality essays and easy acceptances. Writer friends from graduate school (Queens University of Charlotte) also helped by spreading the word among their writing circles. I solicited work from writers and writing instructors whose work I knew well and admired – work from Tracy Kidder, Jeffery Hess, David Abrams, Kevin Jones, Lorrie Lykins, Matt Farwell, Kim Wright, and others.
Getting submissions is easy, actually. The two biggest headaches in the process of compiling an anthology, for me anyway, were gaining reprint permissions from book publishers and negotiating the reprint fees, which I had to pay. The latter is probably why you won’t see many calls for submissions that invite previously published work.
KMR: How many submissions did you receive and how many made it into the finished book?
TC: I received about a hundred and fifty submissions. Some were quickly rejected because they were merely bios revealing a laundry list of duty stations and awards; they weren’t storytelling narratives that revealed what William Faulkner described as the “human heart in conflict with itself,” which is what I intended to publish.
While I never had a particular number of essays in mind when I started the project, and neither did Bridget, we did have an agreement on the maximum word count, which was generous. To reach my goal of portraying the U.S. military experience from WWII to present, and from as many voices and perspectives as possible, I needed the thirty-two essays in RWT.
But given a choice, I will always choose even numbers over odd, for some reason.
KMR: Since you are also an author, was it hard to turn away other writers’ work?
TC: At the risk of appearing callous…not really, thanks to a lengthy background in editing. I quickly knew which essays were hitting, or had the potential to hit, their emotional truths and targets…and which essays I could most likely help develop within my deadline constraints. You see, editors have contractual deadlines, too. But as a writer who has experienced a landslide of rejection, I was certainly aware of the tone I wanted to apply within my rejection letters; I wanted to write the sort of rejection letter I wished other editors had written to me.
KMR: Once you made your final selections and sent them to your editor at UNP, did you have much say from that point on? Did all of your selections make it into the final book?
TC: Bridget provided insightful feedback for each essay, and in some cases, the writers and I needed to go back to work to develop even stronger essays. But yes, all my final selections made it, and so did my ordering of the work within the anthology. Even the stirring cover image of the dog tags against a backdrop of the American flag – an image I found online and recommended to the Nebraska/Potomac marketing team – made it!
KMR: As a writer, I am thrilled to have my essay appear in a body of work that includes a Pulitzer Prize-winning author and a novelist with a New York Times Notable book award. That being said, I’m equally honored to appear in a collection where one of the authors is making his publishing debut. From an editor’s standpoint, what is it like to work with all these authors who are at different levels of their career?
But each of the 32 writers rewarded me in some special way, and each continues to reward me with news about how this publication is still affecting their lives months after its release. We’ve become a family now, a forever interconnected community of writers. In November, RWT was invited to the prestigious Tampa Bay Times Festival of Reading, and I had the opportunity to introduce a handful of our RWT contributors to a large crowd that came to hear our contributors read from their work and to have them sign copies of RWT. Many other contributors in other parts of the country have also read their RWT essays at writing workshops and veterans’ organizations.
KMR: Since most contributors aren’t financially compensated for allowing their work to appear in an anthology, what do you think is the appeal? Why are writers excited to have their work published in a collection?
TC: Oh, how I wish financial compensation was possible!
One appeal, I think, is the sense of validation. Sure, everyone has a story, but not everyone can write that story in such an artful way as to ensure its place within a publication that will stand the test of time, as I firmly believe RWT will do. Another appeal is the opportunity to lend a voice to the overall conversation – in RWT’s case, the cross-generational impact of military service.
KMR: What do you hope readers will take away from this book?
TC: If I could be granted one wish as a take-away, I’d wish for RWT to inspire its readers to reflect on how their lives have also been affected by military service or by a parent’s or grandparent’s service, and to record those reflections as a way to understand and heal old wounds, or as a way to leave a family legacy. At the Tampa Bay Times event, a gentleman who looked to be in his mid-eighties approached me after the RWT reading on the walk to the book signing, and shared that his daughters and granddaughters had been pleading with him for years to write his military stories “before it’s too late.” Choking back emotion, he added, “I’m finally ready.”
KMR: What is it like to be married to a major league baseball coach? It sounds so glamorous.
TC: Guess that depends on one’s definition of glamorous! I eat way too many hotdogs every year.
It’s glamorous for him – he gets the best view of each game; awesome dining all day in the clubhouse; chartered flights around the country; his underwear and uniforms washed, folded, and packed for road trips by the clubhouse crew, etc. When he finally comes home, I sometimes have to remind him this isn’t Nationals Park or the Marriott!
I doubt most coaches’ wives would consider our side of baseball life quite as glamorous. For eight months each year – nine if the team makes it to the post-season – most of us live alone, holding together life at the family’s home base, and catching up with our husbands for a home stand here and there, or on the road if the team is playing closer to the family’s home, and for what I jokingly refer to as the conjugal visits. Of the seven years my husband and I have been together, we’ve actually lived together less than three.
Fortunately, I love baseball. I could watch a game every day. Last year, I watched 150 of 162 games because I scheduled my writing time around the television broadcast of each Washington Nationals game. Even though I know every team loses about seventy games each year, every Nats loss still feels like a sucker punch.
The real glamor of this life, for me anyway, arises from the satisfaction of supporting my husband’s passion. He’s as passionate about baseball as I am about my writing life. Besides, all that alone time…for a writer? Now that’s glamorous!
BIO: Tracy Crow is the author of the critically acclaimed military memoir, Eyes Right: Confessions from a Woman Marine (University of Nebraska Press, 2012)—winner of the bronze medal in the 2012 Florida Book Awards competition—and the military novel, An Unlawful Order, released under her pen name, Carver Greene.
Her work has appeared in a number of literary journals and anthologies, and has been nominated three times for the Pushcart Prize. She is the former nonfiction editor of Prime Number Magazine, a Press 53 publication, and is the editor of the military nonfiction anthology, Red, White, & True: Stories from Veterans and Families, WWII to Present (University of Nebraska Press/Potomac Books, 2014).
Crow is a former Marine Corps officer and an award-winning military journalist. As a former assistant professor of creative writing at Eckerd College and visiting instructor at the University of Tampa, she taught basic and advanced courses in all facets of journalism, fiction, playwriting, poetry, and memoir.
Today, Crow and her husband, Mark Weidemaier, who is the defensive coach with the Washington Nationals, live on ten acres in North Carolina with their four dogs, Molly, Cash, Fenway, and Hadley.
I wrote this poem for the wife of a USAF fighter pilot after his plane hit a mountain in Norway in 1987. Over the years, the poem has appeared in numerous military journals and in the book Because I Fly (McGraw-Hill 2002). It’s also depicted in needlepoint and cross-stitch, and I am always honored to learn how it keeps touching lives years after I wrote it. (Click on each photo to enlarge the image.)
The Lady Let Him Fly
did she bind his wings;
take away his boyhood
nor try to force him
down to earth
when it was the air and sky
that beckoned his worth.
did the lady
hold him back,
or trounce his joy
for an air-to-ground-attack;
nor weep like a spoiled child
when he ventured into the blue wild.
In the background she would wait
chasing away twinges
for her fighter pilot’s fate.
With wings straight and unfurled
he and the titanium bird
lifted above the runway’s end
seeking freedom on the wind.
And when he did not return
the lady waited proud and strong
knowing he’d been – “happy all along.”
And when the aged hands of Father Time
called him home
beyond the sky,
the young flyer smiled
because the Lady Let Him Fly.
© Kathleen M. Rodgers, 1987 Alaska
I’ve written about them often over the years. About their hell-raising good times at the Officers Club, living life to the fullest…on the edge of the envelope at a speed faster than the rest of us.
I’ve written about them at other times, too, when they have slowed down to a snail’s pace. When a hush goes over a squadron of men like a black veil because earth and sky have collided and one of their brothers isn’t coming home. A young wife is widowed, a child left fatherless, an older couple wandering around confused, their future of grandchildren and the good life destroyed in a fireball. “Weren’t we supposed to go first?” they ask.
So when my essay “Remembering Forgotten Fliers, Their Survivors” first appeared in the pages of Air Force Times, March 16, 1992, I felt a sense of joy mixed with sadness. Joy because I was happy to have another byline in a national publication that treated me like a professional, but the sadness came from the fact that once again I had written about loss––the loss of fighter pilots dying in peacetime training missions. This subject would be the driving force behind my debut novel, The Final Salute, first published in 2008.
Fast-forward twenty-two years later and the republication of my essay in a prestigious new anthology titled “Red, White, & True,” released from Potomac Books, an imprint of the University of Nebraska Press. Edited by Tracy Crow, a former Marine Corp officer and an award-winning military journalist and author nominated for three Pushcart Prizes, this provocative and powerful collection presents thirty-two true stories about the enduring impact of U.S. military service from WWII to present. The writers include a Pulitzer Prize-winning author, a novelist with a New York Times Notable book award for 2012, and a writer seeing his name in print for the first time.
Today, I take pride in the fact that my story made the final cut as it “passed for review” in front of Tracy Crow and her editors at the University of Nebraska Press. Sometimes my job as a writer is to give a voice to those who are no longer living. In my own small way, I help keep their legacies alive. In Chapter 3 on pages 16 – 20 of “Red, White, & True,” I give a voice to the names of too many good men who flew west before their time.
This collection of powerful true stories would make a great gift.
To order, please visit potomacbooksinc.com or call 800-775-2518
Barnes and Noble online and in some bookstores around the country:
I had the pleasure of meeting Jeffery Hess in 2009 at the annual Military Writers Society of America conference in Orlando, FL. Jeff was there to receive a Gold Medal for his anthology of short fiction Home of the Brave: Stories in Uniform published by Press 53. That same year he appeared on The Dennis Miller Show. In 2013, Press 53 released Jeff’s second book Home of the Brave: Somewhere in the Sand. An excerpt from my latest novel Johnnie Come Lately appears in this edition. In the following article, Jeff explains his criteria for selecting the stories that appear in both anthologies.
By Jeffery Hess
The proudest moment of my Navy enlistment came on the morning of December 7, 1989 as I stood in my dress blues on the bow of the USS San Jacinto, looking at the row of other ships pier-side at Norfolk Naval Station. Our ship had only been back a few days from a six-month deployment to the Mediterranean and Black Seas. I was due to receive my Honorable Discharge the following week and my task that morning was to raise the Union Jack, which I did, as the sailors aboard the other ships did at the same time. All these years later, I’ve never forgotten that moment. It was a routine, daily task, but one that I’d never been assigned until that day. Even then, I knew it was a way of honoring my service while also honoring every sailor at Pearl Harbor forty-eight years earlier.
As I write this, it is June 6, 2014 and I have a similar honor, because as you may know, today happens to be the 70th Anniversary of D-Day. Instead of raising the Union Jack, I’ve been asked to write a few words about how I came to select the stories included in a pair of military-related anthologies. It’s a fitting occasion to discuss all things military, which I’m always happy to do, in a humble effort to honor and remember everyone who has worn a uniform, as well as anyone who has been affected by someone who has.
As a reader, writer, editor, and teacher, some of the most fulfilling work I’ve been lucky enough to have done involves assembling and editing stories for these two anthologies.
Over the years, people have asked why I enjoy sticking to the military theme. For me, it seems the stakes tend to be higher in stories of this sort. Hemingway said, “War is the best subject of all. It groups the maximum of material and speeds up the action and brings out all kinds of stuff you have to wait a lifetime to get.”
I don’t read military journals exclusively, but I do enjoy finding military stories in regular journals and collections. I’m always amazed by the way in which writers interpret the topic.
Writing military fiction, myself, I learned from the stories I read. My stories focus on the Navy, Cold War era, mostly, but as an editor, I was given insight into a world of military experiences I had no way of knowing about first hand. This is another reason people read.
In addition to securing reprint rights to well-known stories by Kurt Vonnegut, Tim O’Brien, James Salter, and Tobias Wolf, I sought out other great stories from writers who aren’t as well known, but should be—writers like Pinckney Benedict, Benjamin Percy, Fred Leebron, Amber Dermont, Tracy Crow, and Court Merrigan, to name a few. But I also worked with up-and-coming writers, some I’ve known for years, many others I’ve never met. For both volumes, I received submissions from all over the country. Not all of them were perfect. Many had potential, but needed polishing. A number of stories I chose needed a lot of work, sometimes, more than I bargained for, but there’s just something magical about the excitement of finding a character in a situation that people need to read, no matter the shape the manuscript might be in, and helping the writer achieve his or her vision and then sharing it with the world.
I put together the second anthology in the aftermath of Seal Team 6’s killing of Osama Bin Laden. There was a lot of “heat of battle” stories flooding in. It seemed battle-front stories were everywhere during this time. But, violence is only one segment of the equation. I’m also curious about the other portions of the conflicts.
Tolstoy famously wrote, “…each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” Everyone in uniform has a family and friends and neighbors. I’m interested in a mother’s reaction. In how the wives feel. How new fathers fear what might become of their sons.
During my selection of stories, I recalled favorites I’d read in the past and I contacted the authors to get permission to include their stories, often this involved contacting publishers. I sent emails to every writer I know telling them what I was looking for. Some offered me stories. Others sent people my way. Some did both.
Narrowing the search quickly became an issue. So much material was being generated on this topic, I could pick and choose. My main criteria was based on Interest and Impact.
To gain my Interest, the stories have to convey a sense of authenticity. Whether stories about direct military action or a civilian’s reaction to what they see on the news, I need evidence to prove (or, at least, provide the illusion) that these people and these worlds are absolutely real.
Aristotle said, “For the purposes of story, a convincing impossibility is preferable to an unconvincing possibility.”
To make an Impact on me, I have to care about the characters. I look for the stakes Hemingway mentioned, as well as how each character deals with their situations. As this is fiction, I willingly grant creative license, because it’s the emotional truth that we’re after. This requires a connection to the characters, their physical, emotional, and intellectual selves.
The stories that received an automatic rejection were the ones that were faked or half-assed.
Ultimately, I looked at how each story made me feel when I finished—if it made me say, Wow, Damn, or Oh no, or if it just left me shrugging and reaching for another one. And, most importantly, did the story make me think about it after I put it down?
The one element I found in common with all the stories I selected is passion. Whether about a wounded warrior or a worried widow, or about a mother or children, or overcoming enemies on either side of the wire, or any of the other scenarios that appear in these stories, each of them separated themselves from a number of stories that lost out due to the writers having a good idea, but not a true passion for the topic. During the process of finding these stories, I came to learn that the passion for the characters and their situations is contagious.
Tell us something, we’ll forget it. Show us something, we’ll see it. Makes us feel something and we’ll remember it.
This approach isn’t limited to stories about military events. The notions of authenticity and specificity make characters memorable no matter if they’re war heroes, gangsters, housewives, siblings, psychopaths, depressed boomers, or a Harry Potter wizard or whatever he is. My goal, with the forty-six stories selected for inclusion in these two volumes, is that they become memorable to readers for years to come, because, as Calvin Coolidge said, “The nation which forgets its heroes will itself be forgotten.” That won’t happen on my watch.
About Jeffery Hess
Jeffery Hess is the editor of the award-winning anthology Home of the Brave: Stories in Uniform, and the recent follow-up, Home of the Brave: Somewhere in the Sand (both from Press 53). Prior to earning a Master of Fine Arts degree in Creative Writing from Queens University of Charlotte and a Bachelor’s degree in English from the University of South Florida, he served in the U.S. Navy aboard the fleet’s oldest and then newest ships. He’s published a number of short stories that recall this period of his life in print and online journals. He’s held writing positions at a daily newspaper, a Fortune 500 company, and a university-based research center. He lives in Florida, where he’s completing a novel and has, for the past six years, led the DD-214 Writers’ Workshop for military veterans.
-Home of the Brave anthologies website:
-Home of the Brave: Stories in Uniform on Facebook:
-Home of the Brave: Somewhere in the Sand on Facebook:
-Home of the Brave: Stories in Uniform – Amazon page:
-Home of the Brave: Somewhere in the Sand – Amazon page:
-DD-214 Writers’ Workshop website:
-Dennis Miller Interview – June 10, 2009
-Dennis Miller Interview – June 4, 2013
-Tampa Tribune article about Anthologies and Workshop:
-Interview with Jeffery Hess
Updated February 6, 2016
Every Feb. 6, Tom and I remember our dear friend, USAF Capt. Roy Westerfield, killed in his F-111 as he made his final approach into Cannon Air Force Base, Feb. 6, 1980. Roy was a gifted musician, and he played the trumpet at our wedding just a few months before his final flight. His beautiful wife, Petey (Maryellen), took our wedding photos.
For us, Roy and Petey were always larger than life. Petey is gone now, too, but both of them live on in my Air Force Times’ essay “Remembering Forgotten Fliers, Their Survivors” republished in the new anthology Red, White and True from Potomac Books. Thanks to editor Tracy Crow for including my essay in the collection. In some small way, my story helps keep their memories alive for future generations.
Petey’s poem “Taps” graces the opening pages of my first novel, The Final Salute. She did get to read the book before she passed in 2009. Her poem is a tribute to Roy.
Roy Westerfield’s death haunted me for years. With Petey’s permission, I gave Roy’s first and last name to two different characters in The Final Salute. Tuck Westerfield and Roy “Wheaties” Wheaton carry on the legacy of so many fighter pilots who die in the prime of their lives…while flying peacetime training missions.