There are few trips more glamorous than a writers’ conference in Las Vegas (OK, maybe one in Monaco, but I am a mere writer, folks, I do not chose these gigs, these gigs choose me. Vegas therefore is pretty fetching). The truth is, when I go to an event out-of-state, be it Las Vegas or Los Angeles, the place where I spend the most time is the desk of my hotel room, doing work.
It’s a sin, and certainly not sinful in the general Vegas way. This is where I typed away the majority of my free time, listening to the shouts of the brave inebriated riding the New York, New York roller coaster just outside my window (when I was in Las Vegas last, I did ride that roller coaster; I kept my eyes closed, screamed my head off the whole time, and lost my favorite earrings). Every once and awhile I would interrupt my writing to go to the window and watch the party goers wandering from casino to casino, wondering who was drunk or sober, who had lost or won.
My one crazy night out, and a Saturday to boot, found me walking the strip alone, staying away from all the weirdos handing out baseball-card-sized flyers of naked women. I saw a bride in a white dress with a dirty hem, too many girls in too high heels, and I stopped long enough at the Bellagio to call my daughter and husband while watching two different fountain displays, one synchronized with Tchaikovsky, the other to the Beatles.
Not quite the sort of Saturday night Vegas is known for.
Both the pro and con of being a writer is that you can write anywhere. The pro of being a writer and a mother is that, while doing events or attending conferences, I suddenly have a hotel room all to myself and there’s no child begging me to take her to the hotel pool or let her watch the Disney Channel.
I did not even touch a slot machine.
But let’s not think I didn’t have a good time. I was attending the Nevada Veterans’ Writing Conference held at New York, New York on June 2-3. And I found myself in the company of some of the best authors around: Matt Gallagher, David Abrams, Caleb Cage, Pinckney Benedict, Lee Barnes.
What made this particular writers’ conference unique was that the attendees represented the entire spectrum of the United States military experience, all branches, male and female, spouses and Gold Star mothers. The writers had experienced our country at conflict from Vietnam to our most recent endeavors in Iraq and Afghanistan, and they had great stories to tell. I was also amazed at how many female service members were in attendance and urged them to write their lives, their experiences being one we do not read about enough.
I was heading out to lunch with Matt Gallagher and a few other authors after a panel when Matt and I were stopped by a couple. The man was missing his left arm, his face was badly scarred, and it was clear that he had been blinded. He held on to the leash of a sweet faced German Shepherd-mix guide dog. His wife, blond, in an elegant and airy wrap dress perfect for the Vegas heat, told us her husband had been injured in Afghanistan when he was with the EOD (Explosive Ordinance Disposal, or bomb disposal). We were lined up in a narrow hallway: I was facing and speaking to the spouse, Matt Gallagher the soldier.
The woman continued, telling me the conference had been inspiring to her husband, who had been wrestling with ways to tell his story. She said her soldier was also urging her to write about her own experiences as a military spouse during the deployment, injury, and rehabilitation. Her voice took on an edge of excitement I recognized, that spark of a new idea, that enthrallment with a new storyline. I felt it too– I have never heard of a husband/soldier and spouse/army wife collaboration like this, and I begged her to write this book NOW. It is something I want to read. As we headed our separate ways, she thanked me, and I shook her hand, patted her sweet and patient dog’s head. I blinked and tried to keep my eyes dry; I couldn’t even imagine the long road this amazing couple had taken, the long road they had managed to survive together.
“Thank you,” I said. “You make all of us spouses proud.” She smiled, embarrassed, ran one hand through her short blond hair and put the other around her husband’s arm. “Please, please keep in touch.” I gave her my business card. “I want to hear your story, and America does too.”
Matt and I walked away, both of us silent for a moment before we caught up to the rest of our party.
That’s what this conference is all about, I thought, quickly slipping on my sunglasses before anyone could see my eyes.
And indeed it was. Lee Barnes, in his keynote speech, rallied his listeners, telling them that they were Vets who had survived so much, certainly they could handle the ups and downs of writing a book. They are our brave, our disciplined, our most fearless, they have stood up for our country when she needed them most—when they write their stories, surely we should read them.
Fire and Forget, a new anthology on shelves 2/5/13, featuring a Foreword by National Book Award winner Colum McCann, and new fiction by Brian Turner, Colby Buzzell, Siobhan Fallon, Matt Gallagher, David Abrams, among others.
Jeff Hess’ Home of the Brave– with works by Tobias Wolff, Kurt Vonnegut, Tim O’Brien, James Salter, Benjamin Percy, among others.
MilSpeak Foundation: Military Words in Literature and Art, a great military publisher with Sally Drum, editor and Veteran, at the helm.
David Abrams’ soon to be released novel FOBBIT
Caleb Cage’s memoir The Gods of Diyala
Matt Gallagher’s memoir Kaboom: Embracing the Suck in a Savage Little War
Taking a look at Nevada Office of Veteran Services http://www.veterans.nv.gov/index.html