Our Best War Stories
Packed with 36 PRIZE-WINNING WORKS of WAR POETRY, SHORT FICTION, and NON-FICTION from TODAY’S WARS!
A patrol races to make peace with Afghan village leaders, battling time to save a snake-bitten Marine! An Army veteran whose touch can hold off death attempts to find his grip. On the streets of Washington, D.C. a former sailor is haunted by the ghost of a stalker who once threatened her career! A proud Air Force brat faces racism on an overseas playground! The crew of an Army cargo plane delivers a brand new Jeep to special forces-in the middle of a jungle firefight!
Tell me a little about your book Our Best War Stories.
Our Best War Stories in an anthology celebrating the finalists from the first five years of the Darron L. Wright Award. We were looking for a way to celebrate their work and reached out to Randy Brown over at Middle West Press for ideas. He suggested we join forces and publish the winning pieces in a book. The finalists are veterans or family members of veterans ranging from the Vietnam era to the War on Terror and all points in between. All branches are represented as well. I was selfishly hoping the army would win out, but it seems pretty even across the board. It’s been a collaborative victory.
What is the backstory behind “Our Best War Stories”? And why did you decide to write this book?
Well, the backstory is that Frank Blake, whom we’d published before at LOA, came to me with an idea. He wanted to honor his former C.O., Darron Wright, who had been killed in a training accident. We decided to create the Darron L. Wright Award and began asking for submissions. Frank’s family’s endowment was used to offer prize money and help bring new voices to the project. The first awards were in 2016 and have only grown since then. Our goal is to make it the premier writing award for veteran authors. The work that gets submitted is very often, I think, a form of therapy as much as it is a desire to write a perfect story or poem. Those really talented writers certainly do exist though, and they are often the winners. It is important that people tell their stories. Hopefully, it will help them understand themselves better, or forgive themselves for all the things that catch us up, or maybe just reminisce in an interesting and poignant way.
How has writing helped you personally? And changed the way you think?
In my capacity as the guy who runs Line of Advance, being able to help fellow writers, and veterans and their family members is something I’m proud of. It often keeps me centered and feeling useful. In my own writing, which isn’t the focus here, it is really about the rush of creation, about stepping outside of oneself and then finding some clarity over things that happened to me, or around me, or nagging possibilities, or conversations that keep popping up enough to get written about in first place. And of course, the loads of self-doubt and torture that go hand in hand with editing are always hanging around. Actually, being both LOA and a writer helps me understand the fears and insecurities other writers have when they finish a piece and are staring at the computer debating whether or not to click submit. It can be daunting to put oneself out there, especially to someone you’ve never met. I think my role at LOA makes me a bit more compassionate with unknown writers. I try to address them all casually and hopefully put them at ease.
What value can someone that is not in the military take from your book?
On the face of it, I think anyone that is a reader would enjoy a good story or poem. On another level, it would be great to demystify the veteran experience for many civilians. I work in education here in Chicago and the people I work with are so divorced from the military that they really have no idea what to make of us sometimes. Honestly, in private conversation, the perceptions of working with veterans, or hiring veterans, can be quite negative. So, while the goal of Our Best War Stories was to publish the finalists from the first five years of the award, an added bonus was to share the honesty and fine quality of these artists with the broader population.
What is the biggest takeaway that you hope a reader will learn from Our Best War Stories?
I really had no idea what to expect when we started Line of Advance in 2013. We knew about the veteran writers that everyone else knew about, and of course, we knew the big guns from eras going way back (shout out to Xenophon). But what I found is that there is a group of us around the country, doing similar things, writing about our experiences, networking, helping one another, etc. There’s an actual scene, I think, and it’s generous and it’s full of talented people. What I hope a reader takes away from this anthology is that these veteran writers have a voice and that they are out there, working and creating. No matter the age, or gender, or any other immutable factor, it is possible for every individual to make their voice heard.
What are you reading now?
I’m reading two books right now. I’m re-reading Heart of Darkness because I’m going to try to teach it to my 12th grade H.S. students. It’s a beautiful book full of imagery and a great story. But more importantly, it is so similar in feel to deploying overseas that it reads like a road map. I remember looking at the mountains in the Mayl valley in Afghanistan and realizing that no matter what we did, no matter what we built, or what violence occurred, the mountains would still be there and the people would still be herding goats and terrace farming in the same way the jungle and the river kind of laughed at Marlow and Kurtz. I’m also reading Blood Meridian. It is very much a bookend to Heart of Darkness. I didn’t intend to go down that rabbit hole, but maybe one spurred the other. I started the McCarthy book and then chose to teach Conrad. Both are gorgeous and terrifying, especially for veterans I think. Blood Meridian is the toughest book I’ve read. It’s beautiful in its honesty with violence.
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Christopher Lyke is a writer and teacher living in Chicago. He served in Afghanistan and Africa as an enlisted infantryman in the U.S. Army. Chris co-founded and edits Line of Advance. He can usually be found running with his dog in Logan Square or watching the Buckeyes at Vaughn’s Pub. Lyke’s work has been featured in such venues as Blaze Vox, Military Experience and the Arts’ literary journal As You Were, Heart of a Veteran, Why We Write from Middle West Press, and he won the short story award in Proud To Be: Writing by American Warriors Vol. 4.