Friday, September 26, 2008

Two Wars

Two Wars: One Hero's Flight on Two Fronts--Abroad and Within. This is a nonfiction account written by Nate Self, Army Ranger and recipient of the Purple Heart, Silver Star, and Bronze Star for his bravery in an Afghanistan battle. Nate's story was featured on the front page of the Wall Street Journal and on NBC's Dateline.

That much you can read on the cover of Two Wars. Here's the story as I've come to know it.

I met Nate Self and his wife, Julie, at the Alive Communications event during ICRS this past summer. Beth Jusino of Alive served as agent on this book. Every attendee at that event received a free copy. I happened to sit right in front of Nate and Julie. When they were introduced, Nate received a standing ovation for his service to our country. I turned around and shook his hand and said "Thank you," immediately getting teary-eyed. Can't help it. When I think of what men such as Nate and all the other soldiers have done for us ...

When have you known me to feature a nonfiction book on this fiction blog--except those about marketing or the craft of fiction? Two Wars is so good I want you to know about it. Here's the surprising part. It says it was written by Nate [Him]Self--and it was. No ghostwriter here, although you'd swear there has to be such a spirit lurking about, for Nate's writing is solid. Especially when you consider he spent years training to be a soldier, not an author.

Part 1, The Call--Nate leads a battle to rescue a Navy SEAL who has fallen into the hands of al-Qaeda fighters in Afghanistan. The rescue goes horribly awry. Nate and his men are downed when their copter crashes on a bleak, God-forsaken mountain, surrounded by the enemy. The odds against any of them surviving are dire. Many don't.

Part II, Recoil--"A rare look into a soldier's soul," the back cover of Two Wars says. The rarest of looks takes place in this second part. Home and "safe" on U.S. soil, Nate finds himself anything but safe. He experiences terrible disillusionment and post traumatic stress, and his home life nearly falls apart. Once a soldier trained for ultimate battle, now what is his purpose in life? Where is his God?

Readers, you will not forget this book after you've lived through Nate's eyes. Novelists, you will learn craft from this true tale, for Nate tells his story like an unfolding novel and uses fiction techniques well. Particularly, I noted:

1. The organic Christian content. I had numerous wistful moments reading Nate's story. Because it is true, he could tell it like it is. This soldier prayed. This soldier talked about God. Guess what--Christians really do act like that. Yet sometimes in our novels we're wary of having a Christian protagonist pray too much and act like a Christian. Why? Because the nonChristian world just doesn't get this. I can think of numerous PW reviews on Christian novels contending with the level of Christian content as "beating over the head" or something to that effect. But Nate's not afraid to depict this part of himself. This is how he lives his life, and it was going in the book. The story is a testimony of his Christian faith--even, I must add, when he didn't feel like living it at all. Nate's unabashed inclusion of these issues leads to a gut-level honest recounting without preachiness.

2. Nate's effective handling of his inward change in Part II. This could so easily have been written horribly. We go from this soldier putting his life on the line in Part 1, wondering if he's going to survive, to someone entirely different in Part II. But Nate doesn't spend page after page in heavy narrative, "telling" the reader how badly his life has fallen apart. Instead he simply shows us. He uses vignettes, jumping from fully written scene to fully written scene, and his voice changes. That's it. But the change is remarkable. It's no longer can-do, purposeful, the soldier in his element, even under heavy fire. This new voice is sarcastic, cynical, purposeless and angry. Lost.

Here's an example of Nate's focused voice in the midst of battle:

I bounded forward, firing. The energizing smell of gunpowder filled my nostrils. I raised my knees high, stepping over the snow and the hidden scree underfoot. I saw a boulder in front of me: a good cover. My wounded leg felt fine for the moment. All I felt was the trigger. We moved as a synchronized unit, just as in training: forward one man at a time, each man in his own lane. These are the basics. Fire and move.

The natural response would be to cower, to hope it would all go away ... But we were living out the purpose of the Infantry--to close with and destroy the enemy ...

Contrast the above with the voice of Nate the disillusioned staff officer back home, sliding downward:

I get strange and disdainful looks from officers I don't know when they see my left shoulder without a Ranger tab. Of course I have a Ranger tab. I just don't wear it ... I have nothing to prove. Not to them.

Last time I deployed, we didn't need markings or even nametags ... Cloth didn't prove anything. Action proved. Creeds proved. Blood proved.

I've seen their looks here. Oh, you're a staff weenie, an Infantry officer without a tab ... No wonder you're here at headquarters and not leading troops.

Same thing with the haircut. I let my hair grow longer, so I'm a bad officer ... I'm a slug. Last time I was at war, the men without uniforms and the ones with the longest hair were the best warriors on the planet. Here, I'm a dirtbag. They don't know me ...

3. Other effective differences between Part I and Part II. Each chapter in Part I begins with a quote about war or soldiering, followed by a bolded sans serif heading as to place and time. These effects heighten the tone of a soldier in his element, of action. In Part II those quotes and headings disappear. Kudos to the interior designer for enhancing the difference in aura between the two sections. In Part I chapters start wherever they naturally fall on a page, with just a little bit of white space in between. This, too, gives us the feeling of continual action. Multiple lines on either side of the chapter number lend a military aura of everything stacked and straight and in its place. In Part II the graphics change completely. Each chapter starts on the right page, giving a sense of distance and fragmentation within the character. And we see a screened crop of Nate's haunted eyes running across the top of each chapter heading. Very effective.

I recommend Two Wars to all of you, and for your relatives and friends who might learn from Nate's faith as he battles forces without and within, and finally comes to peace with his struggles. Find it in your local Christian bookstore, if you can. Or Amazon's got a great price on this hardcover right now. You can also buy it on your Kindle.

I've been offered two copies of Two Wars to give away here. I know 97% of you BGs out there love to lurk. But if you'll surface for the moment and leave a comment as to why you'd like a copy of this book, your name will go "in the hat." I'll give you all weekend to do this. Then I'll draw the two names Sunday night before I put up my post for Monday.

To Nate and Julie Self--may God's blessings be with you as you continue in His work.


Gin said...

Brandilyn, I have to thank you for bringing this book to my attention. A similar thing is what led to my husband's early retirement (after 18.5 years) of service in the Canadian military. No need to put my name in the draw - I'm buying this book as soon as I am able. I just had to say thank you!

Unknown said...

It's hard to think about this right now as my son is leaving for Basic Training on Monday. I'm glad to know about this book, though. Thanks for sharing it.


Richard Mabry said...

Thanks for sharing this. Please add my name to the mix.

Melinda said...

Brandilyn, Thank you for blogging about this non-fiction book. My husband reads a lot of these types of books. The fact that the author is a Christian is a bonus! I'd love to get this book for him to read.

I really enjoyed you being the emcee at the ACFW conference. :)

PatriciaW said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Teri Dawn Smith said...

Ohhh, this book sounds so good. I love to read about the men who serve our country. I always say a word of thanks to them in the airport. I'd love to read this book for sheer love of country and for a study in using fiction techniques in non-fiction.
I met you at the ACFW conference,and you asked me if I had met up with someone to hang out with. So sweet of you to care. Blessings!

PatriciaW said...

In a macro sense, I appreciate the service of all of our brave men and women on foreign soils. I've been blessed not to be touched personally by this war. In a micro sense, I think I, and many Americans like me, don't always "get it" on a very human, very personal level. We need to get it.

Please include me in the drawing.

Anonymous said...

I have friends, young and older, in Afghanistan and Iraq. I can't even watch, see, or talk about the military without tearing up. I am so thankful for their sacrifice. Please add my name to the hat.

Winter Peck said...


As the wife of a man who's seen it, I'd love to get a copy of this book for both of us to read, drop my name in, please. My hubby was in Iraq and could possibly see Afghanistan by the end of this year. I'm the one who (not sure if you were still there by this time) commented in Mark Mynheir's class about how close soldier's and cop's lives are when dealing with their everyday lives on the job.

This would be one book I know I could peel my hubby away from college textbooks to read. If things don't hit too close to home for him. Thanks for sharing it.


Randy Mortenson said...

I'd like a copy of this book. I served in the Army twenty years ago and more recently I was a Navy chaplain. I would love to read Nate's story. Thanks for posting about this.

Lynette Sowell said...

Oh, wow. I feel like a crunchberry. I *just* saw him back in mid August at our local Barnes & Noble grand opening. We live right next to a major military base, so it was no surprise that they had a military writer come to sign. And I had no clue who he was...I did see him from a distance and thought, "Oh, I should say hi and at least give him some book traffic. I know how it feels, hoping someone will stop by the table." But everyone else was ready to go... Thank you for sharing part of his story! I will definitely pick it up. Next time I'll make the time to stop at a table. :)

meliaka said...

Wow!... That's the only word I can think of. I would love to read it. meli

Dineen A. Miller said...

Hey Brandilyn,
Please include me. I'd love to look at this book myself and share it with my dad. He's Vietnam Vet.

Ronie Kendig said...

Oh my goodness. I just purchased General Boykin's book "Never Surrender" as research for my military series Steve is now pitching called Discarded Heroes, and it's the same series John Olson talked about in his CE class at conference. It's sort of a fictionalized version of what is mentioned here. I would *love* to read this!! There is such a need for stories of hope like this, especially with our government looking at bringing home a million or so men next year!

Anonymous said...


Thanks so much for doing this. It's so humbling to read your feedback on this book, which for me was a total "labor of love" for those men I served with and for my own "military family."

My prayer has always been that this story makes a deep impact on individuals--that it moves them closer to those in the service, that it blesses them spiritually, and that it makes a difference for all who are familiar with suffering.

Thanks to all who have given so much. May this story honor you.