Dead Reckoning Collective’s War & Literature Video Series Is a Great Resource for Aspiring Writers in the Veteran Community

keith-and-tyler

Keith and Tyler. Photo courtesy of Dead Reckoning Collective.

Former military police Keith Dow and Army medic Tyler Carroll met in 2012 while they were still serving in the military and became close friends, bound by — among other things — a love of poetry and other forms of creative writing. They kept in touch with each other after separating from the military and, in 2017, co-founded an independent media outlet that eventually became known as Dead Reckoning Collective. DRC’s broad mission is to “shine a light on veterans living well.” That mission began as a series of podcasts featuring interviews with post-9/11 veterans who had found ways to successfully integrate back into the civilian population.

In 2019, Dow and Carroll published Fact and Memory, a book containing more than 50 of their original works of poetry. The book fulfilled another important DRC objective: to become a bona fide publishing company. Since that time, the company has added a few more titles to its portfolio, including war{n}pieces, a collection of poems penned by Leo Jenkins, and Lucky Joe, a novella co-authored by Jenkins, Brian Kimber, and David Rose.

war & literature series, dead reckoning collective literary roundtable

The War & Literature video series features, from left, David Rose, Marty Skovlund Jr., Leo Jenkins, Graham Barnhart, and Tyler Carroll. Photo courtesy of Dead Reckoning Collective.

DRC’s interest in poetry and direct involvement in the publishing process led them to start hosting public readings and workshops at local coffee shops and breweries. Recently, Dow and Carroll — along with their videographer friend Brad Hutchenson — decided to undertake an ambitious new project that endeavored to illuminate pathways of literary creativity for a larger audience. Enter the War & Literature video series.

“The project was a combination of opportunism and resourcefulness,” Dow said. “We have been wanting to push out some video content for a while and have been building out our gear and skills to do so without botching it. There were a lot of moving pieces here, but [the project] worked out better than we could have dreamed.”

The first installment (“Chapter 1: The Process”) was recorded on Jan. 9 and took a deep dive into what it takes to mine the raw materials for the creative writing operation. “We’d been conducting business at coffee shops and breweries up to now,” Dow said. “So we figured why change? Denton County Brewing Co. was ecstatic about the fact we wanted to use their space as a backdrop and were such gracious hosts. The idea really just had legs from the beginning. We just had to make sure we tied every loose end.”

The distinguished panel of speakers for the inaugural episode consisted of writer and poet Leo Jenkins, poet and PhD student Graham Barnhart, military and fantasy writer David Rose, and Coffee or Die Magazine’s executive editor Marty Skovlund Jr. In reference to this cast, Dow indicated the goal was to feature authors representing the “most prolific voices in veteran literature” at this moment in time.

“While it would be impossible to get everyone who has made an impact in a room,” he said, “I think we were lucky to have the lineup we did, and we are all looking forward to more projects like this. Everyone came from different facets of the literary community with the common bond of military service. Leo and David have each built a catalog of poetry, memoir, and fiction, while Marty has shined most in nonfiction and journalism. Graham represented the academic community very well, and all of them together gave perspective on each topic that reflected their diverse experiences to date.”

This same cast of characters was generally continued throughout the series. However, there are a few more special guests.

There were many highlights in the first chapter, including Skovlund’s revelation that he routinely eavesdrops on conversations in the grocery store line to learn how to write authentic dialogue. Jenkins suggests that the best way to write about a fictional character’s hangover is to tie one on the night before and experience the painful consequences firsthand.

war & literature series, dead reckoning collective literary roundtable

The War & Literature series was filmed at the Denton County Brewing Co. in Texas. Photo courtesy of Dead Reckoning Collective.

Since posting chapter 1, DRC has dropped the remaining episodes: “Revision & Publication,” “The Journey,” “Archetypes,” and “Inspiration.” Carroll chose these topics because they were common threads in recent conversations with friends and colleagues. While the topics themselves seemed important, he also wanted to make sure the conversation within each one flowed naturally.

Carroll says the initial War & Literature series is only the beginning.

“I’d love to see [...] future projects come across people’s screens as easily as possible, on the biggest platforms available,” he said. “We just have to figure out what all of that entails. And we will. I am very pleased with how this turned out and the reception it has received. We learned a lot from it, both pre- and post-production. Our presence on YouTube is only going to grow, ideally a video a week. With that being said, we will continue these roundtable discussions when an opportunity presents itself, with the topic being dependent on the people. Once the world settles down, we will be hosting more events, which will allow us to get with more people creating those opportunities. In the meantime, we are working with a select few individuals on creating a webinar series.”

Most scholars and experts agree that you can only teach someone so much about the mechanics of writing — you either have it or you don’t.

“Unfortunately,” Carroll admitted, “that’s kind of a kick in the balls. But later on in the series, Graham talks about within his teaching career how cautious he is in what he tells his students, and he gives an example of a Pulitzer Prize winner saying he was told he’d never be able to write. I don’t think anybody should be so declarative in their opinions.”

Read Next: How 1985’s ‘Bloods: Black Veterans in Vietnam, An Oral History’ Relates to Our Current Wars

Tim Cooper is a contributing writer for Coffee or Die and has been a freelance writer for more than 20 years. He is also a certified firearms instructor and soon-to-be-famous recording artist with Fat Chance Records. When Tim is not traveling the world on assignment, which is actually more often than not, you will probably find him at a nearby shooting range or sitting behind a drum kit, staring at his bandmates in bewilderment.
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