Thursday, April 10, 2014

FIRST! (is that right? or is that for comments?)

Hello World,

I think that's how you're supposed to start these things.  At any rate, I'm Fred Slawson, and this is my writing blog.  I'm one of those hopeful idiots who wants to turn his skills at an art form into some form of income. 

I'll be posting all manner of things here, such as: reviews, opinion pieces, short stories, and random musings.  The purpose is not entirely to inflate my own ego with delusions of grandeur, but to build a collection of work that I can use as a portfolio in order to get work as a freelance writer. 

So far, I've been writing on textbroker, but with the payouts available to get, it's more of textbroke (rim shot).  I've also been doing all sorts of other writing projects for my own amusement, and while that's fun and all, it doesn't put ramen in the cupboard. 

Since I'm introducing myself, I'll take some time to write out a quick biography.  As I said, I'm Fred Slawson, and I'm the third Fred down.  That doesn't make me Fred Slawson III or anything so fabulously regal as to require roman numerals, it makes me "Ryan" to my friends and family.  Different middle names, you see.  I'm sure you're fascinated.

I was born and raised, but that's the boring part of the story and I refuse to tell it.  I started writing when I was 15 years old.  I wanted to write a sci-fi fantasy epic that was like the love-child of Robert Jordan and George Lucas.  Tragically, it really did look like such an improbable genetic disaster.

The biggest problem with writing a sci-fi fantasy epic something something, etc... at the age of 15 is that, first, I was 15, and second, I was the type of 15 year old who spent all of his time trying to write a SFFESS, etc... and I knew it.  Every six months or so, I would go re-read from the beginning of my story. I would feel so utterly stupid about my work that I would totally rewrite it.  I didn't get discouraged, I had a friend who was in her twenties who helped me with it.  She kept my spirits up, and since she enjoyed it, I felt I had something worth working on. 

At 18 years old, I wanted life experience so bad, particularly military experience, that I joined the Army.  It was the absolute best thing I could ever have done as a writer.  I was what they call a Human Intelligence Collector, HUMINT for short.  Damn, was I proud of that.  The thing was, I was book smart, but people dumb.  Thankfully, over time I applied the lessons on dealing with people from the books into my own actions and personality.  Living through it, and looking back on some of the awkward and silly things I did and said, the transformation took longer than I'd like to admit.  It's surely not done to this day in all honesty. 

The stories though!  I met some of the most amazing people who had done some of the most amazing, and sometimes amazingly idiotic things imaginable.  I could go on for days telling you about some of these folks, and you'll see parts of them in my stories, because they're just people who deserve to be told about.  I miss them, dearly.

I was sent to school in California to learn Arabic, and I did very well at it, it seems my brain is wired for language.  Someday, I'll send in the paperwork to turn that into an associates degree.  Right out of Arabic school I was sent to the 3rd Infantry Division in Fort Stewart Georgia, from where I was promptly sent to Iraq. 

All the cool kids had already deployed when I arrived, so the collection teams were already formed and I was not to be one of them.  I did however end up working for a brilliant, yet menopausal chief warrant officer four who set me up as one of her night time reports quality control monkeys.

All HUMINT reports from the units working under the division got sent to my section where we checked them for readability, grammar, and formatting.  I don't know if you're aware of the difference between a chief warrant officer three and a specialist in the army, but I, the specialist, pissed off that chief warrant officer three on a semi-regular basis.  SPC Slawson, soon learned not to be such a prick when returning reports for looking like they were written in crayon on a bar napkin. 

The amount of vicarious experience on the mean streets of Baghdad that I gained from reading all of those reports was something that I consider myself lucky to have.   Particularly lucky in that I never had to be under threat of being shot, mortared, or struck by improvised explosive devices to get it.  Sure, they could reach my relatively comfy division headquarters building with mortars and rockets, but that was assuming they were using something more sophisticated than a pile of dirt as an aiming mechanism, they weren't. 

Before I went home they gave me some stripes and I was so thankful for them that I reenlisted for another three years.  Part of that reenlistment package was an assignment to Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, TX.  This was a brand new battalion of HUMINT soldiers specifically designed to be staffed by non-commissioned officers who had deployed as HUMINT collectors, it wasn't.  It was a unit designed with the abuses at Abu Ghuraib hanging over the national conscience.  Regardless of whether it was HUMINT collectors or national guardsmen serving as prison guards that had performed the abuse, it was the HUMINT community that took the rap. 

I deployed again and this time I got to spend a lot of time personally interviewing Iraqi detainees.  There was a lot of drudgery and plenty of "By God I don't know" to go around, but I cranked out reports like a fiend.  There were also people who I'll never forget among both the soldiers and the detainees, at least one of the latter I would call a friend if ever again I see him. 

Without getting into details, I'll just say I lost a lot of faith in what we were doing in Iraq during that time.  We served our tour honorably, but seeing first hand what war does to people and their families takes a lot of the fire out of your belly. 

The stories though!  Things you'd never believe unless you were there.  I had experiences that, despite how badly they sucked, I knew one day I could proudly tell my grandkids.  I was part of something special and I had a privileged seat to a world that so few can ever know. 

They gave me another stripe for my work out there, a rocker technically, and then put me in charge of a crew of my fellow soldiers.  Again, I found myself in charge of report quality control.  I was determined to make sure that if one of my guys learned something from the need-to-know list, that a report was going up about it.  I only regretted that I had very little time left to conduct interviews myself.

When I came back from Iraq, I intended to serve the last year or so of my contract, and then move on to something that would never send me to Southwest Asia again.  During that time I managed to talk my way into a special assignment where I wrote training scenarios and dialogue for mock interviews to be used for a sister battalion that was soon to deploy and staff the facility we had held.  I was hoping to be able to keep that gig until I got out of the Army, I didn't.

The Army decided they wanted me to teach a new batch of HUMINT soldiers the ropes at the training post where I first learned the trade.  I had the option of reenlisting to go teach, or have my contract extended involuntarily to deploy a third time.  I reenlisted. 

It was so bizarre being back at my old stomping grounds as an instructor, instead of a trainee.  I remembered so vividly the experience and was taken aback at how radically it had changed.  As a private there I had watched the news footage of the "Shock and Awe" bombing campaign on the TV in the barracks day room.  Now as a veteran, I was here to teach a soldier's trade to kids who were only nine years old on that fateful day when jetliners were used as cruise missiles.  Many of them barely understood what had happened that day, let alone why. 

When I was a private, there was half of a training company dedicated to my specialty.  Before I left the army there were three training companies dedicated to it.  What was once a small tight-knit community was being trained on an industrial scale.

I only served as an instructor for one class rotation before the battalion asked if anyone wanted to be a platoon sergeant for native born linguists of Arabic and the languages indigenous to Afghanistan.  I was an Arabic speaker, I thought I'd put in for it.  I'll never forget the moment I realized the First Sergeant I was reporting to was one of my basic training Drill Sergeants.  The army is a very small world. 

I have never worked longer hours at a more thankless job in my entire life.  I met some amazing people in that job.  I don't know how well I remember them through some of the weeks where I would work nearly 100 hours with stints of up to 36 hours without sleep.  I still feel a bit queasy when I think about the flavor of sugar free NOS energy drinks, which were basically the only thing that kept me moving. 

As my enlistment neared it's end and my health started to fall apart my first sergeant put me out to pasture, as sort of a 'thanks for nearly killing yourself to make this whole thing work.'  By that I mean he sent me back to the instructor cadre without enough time left in the Army to be certified to instruct.  So my duties were to show my face and prepare for life after the Army. 

The Iraq war, my war, was all but over.  Nine years of my life were entirely dedicated to fighting that single conflict.  It ended simultaneously with my military career.  I can't express how satisfying it is to know that I fought my war to its finale.

I had been wanting to run a tabletop game shop ever since I thought I was going to get out of the Army the first time.  I had made irreplaceable friends in the local community and was sick to death of moving away every few years.  I decided to carry out my plan in the small town adjacent to the post. 

It was a three year thrill ride that I've only just recently stepped off of.  Not that I quit through my own desires, mind you.  The pay was literally nothing, but the people I got to hang out with all the time were great.  I didn't once have to yell at somebody about their uniform or ask some poor sap where his neighbor hid all the explosives. 

As I write this, I'm unemployed.  Some lawyer stuff is going down on a broken contract to buy a competitor, so I'm currently without a shop.  I've had a lot of time to think, and write, and generally do nothing for the first time in several years.  It was the writing and the freedom that got me thinking.  It's not a bad job, writing, I've done a lot of it. 

Maybe you'll look at this and want to read some of those stories I promised I'd write.  Maybe you'll look at this and like the way I use my words.  Stick with me then, there's more to come.  If you want me to write or edit for you, let me know.  I'm not necessarily in a pro bono situation, but I'm a reasonable enough monkey.  I will, of course, trade work for work; if you're willing to edit for me, I'll pick your fleas too.

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