I’m finalizing formatting and editing on “The Shifting Sands” – the war/coming of age novel I wrote for NaNoWriMo that is based heavily on my own experiences with the war and PTSD. As I tweak it, I thought I’d share the book blurb (description) and the forward I included to explain the piece:
It’s Christmas, 2003, and Mike Ritz is home on leave from the war in Iraq. He kept his homecoming a surprise and plans on having a fun-filled two-weeks with family and friends, booze and parties.
But Mike doesn’t come home alone. He quickly finds that he brought the war with him – and, despite his attempts to do so, he can’t escape it or what it has done to him.
Mike’s vacation from the war becomes a hectic gauntlet of friends and family who don’t seem to understand what happened to him, memories of Iraq that spring unbidden and unwanted to the forefront of his thoughts, and the brutal realization it wasn’t the real world that changed – it was himself.
“The Shifting Sands” is a chronicle of Mike’s time in Iraq and attempt to return home. It is a brutally honest, unapologetic, look inside the mind of a soldier, written by a soldier.
Ten years ago, almost to the day, I arrived in Kuwait as a fresh-faced, twenty-three-year-old soldier, hungry for the oncoming war in Iraq. This isn’t that story – that story will probably never be told.
“The Shifting Sands” started out as a National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) endeavor. In NaNoWriMo, the goal is to write a 50,000 word novel in the month of November. I decided the best way to accomplish it would be to write something as close to stream-of-consciousness as I could. To do this, I made the decision to do something I had avoided: write about my experiences in Iraq.
I created Mike Ritz as a conglomerate of myself and several other people I knew during my time in the military. His fellow soldiers, and his life at home, also represent a mingling of my own experiences and the stories of others.
But it became clear to me, within the first page, I wasn’t writing a story about Iraq but about PTSD. The tale became one of Mike trying to adjust to the “real world” during his two-week leave from combat in December of 2003.
His experiences, and his story, became an intensely personal exploration through memories I deliberately avoided. I would spend many late nights, well into the morning, glued to my keyboard as I pounded out my own memories and then reshaped them into Mike’s story.
By the end of the first draft, I realized I had written not a war story, but what I felt was an honest exploration into the reality of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and what it does to a soldier, his friends, and family. I was tempted to shelve the story and never release it – especially considering my other endeavors in writing tend towards the more light-hearted fantasy and adventure genres.
But a few beta readers, including another veteran friend of mine, encouraged me to revise and release it.
So here it is, “The Shifting Sands.”
I borrow a line from a computer game I used to play, “This story is all a lie. It is all the truth.”
– Aric Catron
February 27, 2013