Notes from a Civil-Military Writers Workshop

Duluth-based author and U.S. Air Force veteran Eric Chandler signs a book after a Q&A discussion at the Spirit of the North Theater, Duluth, Minn., June 2. The free public event was part of a weekend "Bridging the Gap" workshop for military veterans, families, and others who are exploring military topics and themes in their writing. Photo by Andria Williams.
Waves crashed against black rocks on a cold and blustery weekend in Duluth, Minn., while a small group of military writers remained cozy and dry in the Fitger's Brewery complex, located along the Lake Superior shore. More than 12 military family and veterans from Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Iowa participated in a 2-day workshop last weekend, June 2-3, 2018, exchanging ideas and insights on how to explore stories of change and resilience.

The "Bridging the Gap" workshop was made possible through a grant from the Arrowhead Regional Arts Council, thanks to legislative appropriation from the arts and cultural heritage fund. Organizer Eric Chander, a Duluth-based author, commercial pilot, and U.S. Air Force veteran, says the inspiration for the event came from a 2016 query from colleagues at Lake Superior Writers.

"There are various regional efforts that regularly bring writers of memoir, poetry, and fiction together," Chandler says. "Given that we've been nearly two decades at war, why wouldn't there be a resource to help people document and discuss military themes?"

Participants included women and men who are veterans of the U.S. Navy, Air Force, Army, and Marines, as well as those who have had friends, family, and co-workers in uniformed service. One woman had previously served in a U.S. Navy Amphibious Construction Battalion—the "Seabees." Another participant described carving time for writing despite taking care of her five children, while the family awaits the return of her husband, who is currently deployed with a Duluth-based Air National Guard unit. Yet another woman veteran told stories of working as a maintainer on U.S. Air Force F-4 "Phantom II" fighters and B-1 "Lancer" bombers.

In short, the stories told were far from the testosterone- and adrenalin-fueled military stereotypes that are so often depicted in popular media. One writer noted she was specifically motivated by the "bridging the gap" theme, not only in terms of civil-military frameworks, but in bringing together other communities, audiences, and "tribes."

In contrast to the foggy and rainy weather outside, the workshop environment was quietly electric. Throughout the weekend, the group took full advantage of the Fitger's Brewery complex—a space that includes conference, hotel, catering, performance, and boutique shopping. Breakfasts and lunches were catered on-site, and discussions of writing and publishing techniques weaved seamlessly between formal classes and lunchtime conversations. Experiences of those present ranged from those who were just starting to explore writing—or who were interested in learning about new forms of writing—to those who were already seeking publication in journals, anthologies, and other venues.

In a free public event conducted in Fitger's Spirit of the North Theatre on Saturday evening, June 2, four authors of fiction, non-fiction, and poetry read selections from their works, and engaged audience questions about bridging gaps in empathy and understanding that seem to occur between civil and military communities.

Featured were authors Mary L. Doyle ("The Master Sergeant Lauren Harper" mystery series and others) and Andria Williams ("The Longest Night"), as well as workshop instructors David Chrisinger ("See Me for Who I Am") and Randy Brown ("Welcome to FOB Haiku: War Poems from Inside the Wire.")

"I've seen all sorts of workshop models—everything from 1-day one-shots, to weekly or monthly meetings, to 5-day national conferences," says Brown. "I can honestly say that the inaugural 'Bridging the Gap' event hit a sweet spot—it provided real 'bang for the buck,' with a lot of information and networking in a short period of time. I saw even seasoned practitioners walk away with new tools to try out, and new writers who were charged up and empowered to get started on their own stories. I'd do it again in a heartbeat!"

Comments