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Roy Scranton on Fire and Forget: Short Stories from the Long War

By Carly DaSilva

The body of literary work about the Iraq and Afghanistan wars continues to grow. There are nonfiction accounts (Evan Wright’s Generation Kill) and fiction accounts (David Abrams’s Fobbit), but there is nothing like Fire and Forget, a collection of short fiction published by Da Capo Press and compiled by co-editors Matthew Gallagher and Roy Scranton. Contributors include fourteen veterans of the Iraq or Afghanistan war and one military spouse. The collection hit the shelves this past month, and I spoke with Roy Scranton to discuss the making of the book and the process’ effect on him as a veteran and contributor himself.

Roy Scranton lives in Princeton, NJ, and he has been a member of the Princeton University English Department since 2010. His stories and essays have been published in The Boston Review, The New York Times, and LIT among other publications. Fire and Forget is selling now in bookstores and on Amazon.

How did this collection come about? Did the pieces flood in, or were you hard-pressed to find people who were willing to share their work with you?

Both. There’s a small community of veteran writers in New York, and we were sharing our work with each other, and we realized that we really had something. So, we put out a call. We contacted vets writing groups, we contacted other vets that we knew, and we contacted other people we knew who had already written about Iraq and Afghanistan such as Colby Buzzell and Brian Turner to make direct solicitations for them. We put out a broad net and we also asked people specifically. We got in submissions from all over the country.

Thinking about all of these stories that you’ve collected and read for this book, how have they impacted you, being that you are a veteran yourself with your own stories to tell?

That’s a great question; nobody’s asked me that. It’s been a really intense process, honestly. To take a book like this through to final production, you read it about five hundred times; maybe that’s a slight exaggeration. But it’s intense, and I feel that every time I read it. The stories are in the book because each one has something unforgettable about it. There’s the moment in Roman Skaskiw’s story, “Television,” where the lieutenant has to bring the sergeant to the family of the kid they shot, and it’s moments like that that just make the stories stick in my mind and reverberate. It’s been a really interesting process editing them all and reading them and rereading them. It’s made me think a lot about the commonalities in all the different experiences, and then the differences as well.

You are very involved with poetry, contemporary poetry in particular. Why an anthology of short fiction by veterans and not poems or nonfiction?

Right; that’s a great question. There’s something that fiction does really well in the way it sort of abstracts from the particularity of events, and the way that it presents a narrative, but a narrative that isn’t just reported. It gives it a deeper or more universal or maybe even a more philosophical truth, or maybe a more emotional truth. There’s something fiction can do in terms of talking about what it means to be human that it does better than any other genre.

What was your favorite part of the editing process?

I have two favorite parts. The first is just working on the stories with the authors. Being able to work with this group of writers was just an immense gift. We have different approaches and different aesthetics and different ways of thinking about writing, but there’s certain sensibilities and concerns we all share being veterans or, with Siobhan, even, a military spouse, that just made it super personal and interesting in that way as well. The other thing I loved was putting them all together and seeing how they spoke to each other and bounced off each other and disagreed with each other, and sort of the harmonies and reverberations throughout the book. I used to love, way back in the day, making mixed tapes and putting all these stories together felt like making a mixed tape. It’s like this story leads into this story, and then three stories later, there’s an echo from the first story. Putting that together was really pleasurable for me as an editor.

What do you want a reader to take away from these stories?

I really believe that narrative is a collaborative art, so the reader brings as much of the story to the story as the writer puts on the page. I want readers to come away stricken and chastened and amazed by the craft in the stories and blown away by the struggle that these writers go through to make sense out of violence, just like I was. But, what’s more important to me in the end is what readers bring to the book. I want readers to bring independent thought, a sense of curiosity, and also a desire to not just be entertained by the stories, but a willingness to be changed by them.