This is a guest post from National University’s MFA creative writing program student Fabricio Correa:
Military stories have engrossed readers and viewers worldwide, ranging from iconic films like A Thin Red Line to visceral books such as Black Hawk Down. Fiction, non-fiction, poetry, screenwriting – no matter the genre – we are shaken by the grit of reality and the hero’s quests for victory or survival.
A powerful tool in shaping the thoughts of a military fiction writer is a creative writing workshop. It provides a means to hone their writing craft and become part of a writing community.
Active-duty military and veterans can take advantage of many benefits in applying for a MFA program. National University accepts the GI Bill, the Fry Scholarship, the Spouse and Dependents Education Assistance, and the Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment program, and offers tuition reduction for active-duty military members. The MFA program has rolling admissions and is entirely online. This flexibility allows veterans as well as active duty service members to pursue a graduate degree.
Over the next several weeks, NewPages will feature three alumni who share their experiences in the military and at National University’s MFA in creative writing, a military-friendly MFA program entirely online.
Susan Caswell has been in the Army for twenty years, eighteen and a half on active duty. She was a direct commission as a chaplain. Most of her work is of a non-religious nature. She provides counseling to deal with combat and financial stress, relationship and medical issues, among other sensitive cases. Most of the service members are between the ages of 18-24, extremely young and away from the safety of their homes.
Susan is a writer of non-fiction. She says, “I write essays about experiences that haunt me. I feel some release when the experience is honored by putting it to paper.” Her short story “Three Hours and Forty-Nine Minutes” encapsulates the vulnerability of extreme situations. The story was featured in the GNU 2016 Summer Edition. “The feedback from my peers is invaluable. They help me understand what they can connect with, and what needs to be elaborated.”
The intensity of her experience can be felt in the nail-biting excerpt “A memory surfaces from my third deployment. I was in a chapel service in Kandahar, Afghanistan in 2012. The sirens sounded just as the sermon started. Without missing a beat, Chaplain Vaughan reminded the congregation, ‘Lie down on the floor and protect your head with your hands.’”
As for the military writer being a powerful contributor to our society, Susan says, “I think my writing provides a window into the war. I write about the experiences that may not be reported in the press. People tell me that they have new insight into the war after reading my work.”