War and Life Afterwards: An Interview with Brian Castner
We’re honored that Brian Castner, Iraq War veteran and author of The Long Walk, makes his official online home right here at WordPress.com. Brian’s history and work are fascinating, as are the writing and photographs he shares on his blog.
We asked Brian a few questions about his background, his book, his blogging philosophy, and his choice of WordPress.com for his site.
Could you please tell us a bit about your unique background?
I served in the Air Force as an Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) Officer, and deployed twice to Iraq in 2005 and 2006. EOD is the military’s bomb squad, so we defuse roadside bombs and all types of rockets and missiles and such. I got out of the military in 2007 and became a contractor teaching Army and Marine Corps EOD units before their deployments, but when the stress and post-traumatic issues finally caught up with me, I wrote a book about it. Now I’m a writer — I do magazine pieces, I’m working on another book, and I blog as well.
Your book, The Long Walk, was published last year. What’s it about? (And is it true that it’s now being turned into an opera?!)
My goal in writing the book was just to get the feeling right — what does it feel like to take apart Improvised Explosive Devices in Iraq and then come home and feel like you’re going crazy? So, the book is a mix of those two story lines — in Iraq and back home — and they are intertwined because it felt to me like everything was happening at once. When I was deployed I only thought of coming home, and once I was home for good I felt a need to go back. I needed to write the book to explain the war to myself, and I never expected it to take off like it has since it was published by Doubleday last year.
And yes, it is being turned into an opera, and I certainly didn’t expect that either! The American Lyric Theater in New York is producing it, and I have been working closely with Stephanie Fleischmann and Jeremy Howard Beck, the librettist and composer, as they construct it. They have taken the project very seriously, and have been incredibly respectful of my family and the book, and are doing a really faithful job translating it to the stage. The first performance of the music, just piano and voice, is the first weekend in June. There was a public performance of the libretto in February, and it was so emotionally intense I had trouble listening.
Did writing the book help you heal?
It did, but if healing was the only goal, I wouldn’t have needed to go through the publication process. There are a number of writing programs for veterans that focus on healing, and they are great, encouraging men and women to just get their story out. I wanted to find peace, certainly, but I also wanted to become a writer, and I did my best to create a good story too, that other people (besides my family and friends) would want to read.
What would you say if one of your four sons wanted to enlist?
The military was mostly good to me, and I wouldn’t trade any of my experiences, good or bad. I have a new family, the EOD brotherhood, and I would never give that up for my ignorant pre-war self. So I wouldn’t stop my sons from enlisting, but I know the military isn’t for everyone. It wouldn’t be a good fit for all of my boys. And because I know the bad things that may be coming, I’m not planning on walking them down to the recruiting station on their 18th birthday either.
Thank you for creating your official website at WordPress.com! Why’d you choose us?
An author in 2013 just needs to have a quality website that can serve as a hub and platform for your books and events. If a reader likes your book and wants to know more, they need a place to go. So I knew I needed a good-looking site, and I chose WordPress.com for a couple of reasons. First, I was comfortable with it. I wrote for an alternative news website in Buffalo, New York, for a couple of years before I wrote my book, and they used WordPress on the back-end. I found it easy to learn then, and since I was comfortable with it, it made sense to build my personal site with it.
Second, and this is no small thing, I could create a decent-looking site for a small amount of money. I’m no programmer, but I’m also not a famous best-selling author who can afford to pay thousands of dollars for someone to build them a site. I needed to be able to quickly and cheaply build a quality site I could maintain, and WordPress.com is good for that.
You’ve picked the premium theme Linen for your blog. What appealed to you about it?
I looked for a really clean, smooth design that fit the somber mood of the book. I was able to tweak the background color on Linen, so now it’s got a subdued grey, vaguely newspaper-like feel, but it also has a nice banner system to draw the eye to high-quality photography. I searched through a bunch of options, and Linen seemed to fit best.
Your blog covers all kinds of topics: info on your book, musings on art, stories about outdoor adventures, book reviews, interviews with other vets, to name just a few. How do you approach all this content?
I have a very strict writing schedule, with daily word count targets and deadlines. I’ve found it’s the only way to keep up with so many different kinds of projects, from blog posts that take half a day to write to a book that requires a year or two. So I try to post on the blog once a week, on Wednesday. I write about two main things: updates about book events and writing projects, and topics that are interesting to me but don’t fit into my normal book and magazine “beat.” Sometimes you just have a theme or idea you want to explore, and the words need to come out, no matter how many people end up reading them. Not every inspiration I have is topical for the news of the day — the blog is a good place for such stray thoughts.
What writing advice and tips would you give fellow bloggers?
When writing at that alt-news site, I learned the value of consistency. Readers expect regular content. If you want people to come back to your blog and read more another day, they need to know when. So I announced that I would write columns every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday, and then I stuck to it almost no matter what. I couldn’t post everyday, but I could keep to that three-per-week schedule, and it worked.
Now, my blog supports my book efforts, so I write less, but still consistently. If I’m going to take a week off, I say so. Malcolm Gladwell talks about the “10,000 hour rule” in his book Outliers. It basically says that it takes 10,000 hours of doing something to master it. The only way to get better at writing is to read and write. Blogging helped me get to 10,000 hours.
Thanks for your time, Brian!
Check out briancastner.com for more on Brian, his book, and his ongoing work.