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Wednesday, July 10, 2013

The virtual world of gaming and the plight of war veterans ~ guest post by fantasy fiction author David Litwack

Today, I'm pleased to have David Litwack sharing his ideas about the plight of war veterans in his guest post. Be sure to check out his new fantasy release, Along the Watchtower.

The virtual world of gaming and the plight of war veterans
by David Litwack

I’ve always been fascinated by how we perceive reality, each of us bringing our own experiences and biases into play. But when we’re ripped from our normal lives and placed in extreme circumstances, our reality becomes totally fragmented. Such is the case with hospitals and war.
Then, a couple of years ago, I became engrossed in the online game, World of Warcraft, thanks to my son. I’m on the east coast and he’s on the west, so we’d meet every Wednesday evening in the virtual world of Azeroth, where our avatars would go on quests together. I was struck by how immersed I became in the mood of the game as we wandered through castles and crypts, solving riddles and vanquishing demons.
The fantasy gaming experience has a dream-like quality to it. And I began to wonder: how would this experience affect the dreams of someone whose reality has been fragmented by war? These concepts—war, hospitals, and the fantasy world of online gaming—came together in my new novel, Along the Watchtower.
I began to research the effects of war on returning veterans. I learned that 30% are diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress. That means after six months they’re still dealing with flashbacks, disturbing dreams, depression and difficulty re-assimilating into their former lives. And that doesn't account for the many others who are seemingly able to adjust but continue to deal with inner turmoil. The war experience changes them all forever. Many have suicidal thoughts (the suicide rate among veterans is triple that of the general population. More soldiers have died by their own hand than in the war itself). Many struggle with dark thoughts and have difficulty forming relationships,unable to “turn off” the normal flight or fight syndrome, leaving them suspicious in crowds and always on alert.
And then, there are the physical injuries. One of the ironic successes of these recent wars is the advance in battlefield medical treatment. The result is that far fewer die of wounds than in prior wars. The ratio of wounded to dead in WWII was 1.1/1, in Vietnam 1.7/1. In Iraq, it’s 7/1. More are saved, but more come home with debilitating, lifelong injuries. And 68% of the wounded have some form or brain trauma, penetrating injuries from shrapnel or non-penetrating concussions from the blasts of IEDs.
To learn more about brain injuries, I read In an Instant, the story of Bob Woodward. The brilliant Woodward had just been named co-anchor of ABC’s World News Tonight. Then, while embedded with the military in Iraq, an improvised explosive device went off near the tank he was riding in. Bob suffered a traumatic brain injury that nearly killed him. The book describes his recovery and recounts how fragile the human brain can be. At one point, the erudite Woodward could rattle off the names of all prior U.S. presidents but couldn't remember the names of his own children.
And I read about post traumatic stress. One of the best books is Achilles in Vietnam. Written by Jonathan Shay, a Vietnam War era PTSD counselor, it compares his clinical notes from patients to the text from Homer’s Odyssey, showing how we as human beings have dealt with war trauma across the millennia. He shows how war fragments our sense of reality and disrupts our moral compass, leaving re-entry into normal life as a brutal and agonizing experience. 
Playing a make believe fantasy game and going to war both have a surreal quality that takes us out of our normal reality. But for war veterans, the sense of normality doesn't return without a struggle.
The Wounded Warrior Project is a wonderful organization, dedicated to helping veterans adjust. Their stated mission is: “To foster the most successful, well-adjusted generation of wounded service members in our nation's history.” How successful we’ll be at achieving that goal will tell a lot about who we are. It’s one of the most important stories of our time.

About Along The Watchtower:

A novel of striking originality, Along the Watchtower crosses genre borders to deliver a story at once poignant, powerful, and unforgettable.  Part love story, part fantasy adventure, part family drama and moving chronicle of recovery and personal growth, it is the story of Lieutenant Freddie Williams, a severely wounded Iraq War vet confined to a hospital for injuries sustained in an IED explosion. But when he sleeps, Williams is Frederick, Prince of Stormwind, heir to the throne in a fantastical realm of demons, elves, and magic, a kingdom now imperiled by a terrifying malevolence. And in these distinct yet strangely similar worlds are the women who will touch both his lives and his heart: Rebecca in Stormwind, the beautiful gardener who is the troubled prince’s destiny…and Becky, Freddie’s physical therapist, who must lovingly guide the broken warrior safely past his personal demons of guilt and memory and may be his only way back from Hell. 

Publication Date:June3, 2013 from Double Dragon Publishing
Amazon: Coming June 3, 2013

Book Description: 

A Tragic Warrior Lost in Two Worlds…

The war in Iraq ended for Lieutenant Freddie Williams when an IED explosion left his mind and body shattered. Once he was a skilled gamer and expert in virtual warfare.  Now he’s a broken warrior, emerging from a medically induced coma to discover he’s inhabiting two separate realities.  The first is his waking world of pain, family trials, and remorse—and slow rehabilitation through the tender care of Becky, his physical therapist. The second is a dark fantasy realm of quests, demons, and magic that Freddie enters when he sleeps.

In his dreams he is Frederick, Prince of Stormwind, who must make sense of his horrific visions in order to save his embattled kingdom from the monstrous Horde.  His only solace awaits him in the royal gardens, where the gentle words of the beautiful gardener, Rebecca, calm the storms in his soul. While in the conscious world, the severely wounded vet faces a strangely similar and equally perilous mission—a journey along a dark road haunted by demons of guilt and memory—and letting patient, loving Becky into his damaged and shuttered heart may be his only way backfrom Hell.

Author Bio:
The urge to write first struck when working on a newsletter at a youth encampment in the woods of northern Maine. It may have been the night when lightning flashed at sunset followed by northern lights rippling after dark. Or maybe it was the newsletter's editor, a girl with eyes the color of the ocean. But he was inspired to write about the blurry line between reality and the fantastic.

Using two fingers and lots of white-out, he religiously typed five pages a day throughout college and well into his twenties. Then life intervened. He paused to raise two sons and pursue a career, in the process becoming a well-known entrepreneur in the software industry, founding several successful companies. When he found time again to daydream, the urge to write returned.
There Comes a Prophet, the first novel in this new stage of life, was published in July 2012. His second, Along the Watchtower, will be available in June 2013.
David and his wife split their time between Cape Cod, Florida and anywhere else that catches their fancy. He no longer limits himself to five pages a day and is thankful every keystroke for the invention of the word processor.

Contact Info:
David Litwack
Twitter: @DavidLitwack
There Comes a Prophet trailer:
Along the Watchtower trailer:

Book Excerpt:
Wounded Warrior
An echo of an echo. A dream interrupted by hushed voices talking the way people do near the deceased at a wake. One voice gruff, a man’s, possibly a smoker.The other mousy, almost a squeak. Three fingers pressed on the inside of my wrist. Thick fingers.
“His pulse is strong. Let’s give it a try.” The man’s voice rose. “Freddie, can you hear me?”
I recognized the name. Freddie. Short for Frederick.A name that must be me. Then panic. I’d been dreaming of castles and kings. Why would I want to be Freddie?
“Try his rank,” the woman said. “They’re trained to respond by rank.”
“Lieutenant Williams.”
An image flitted across my mind. Iraq. An explosion. My mind recoiled. I groped about in the darkness, trying to find the castle again.
“Did you see that?” the man said. “His eyelids twitched.”
“Lieutenant,” the woman said, louder now. At least I was no longer deaf. “Can you wiggle your thumbs?”
There was somewhere else I needed to be, something important I was supposed to do. My mind was a jumble. When I couldn’t fit the puzzle pieces together, I sent a signal to my thumbs.
“Wonderful.” A touch on my palm.The woman this time.Slender fingers. “And can you squeeze?”
I did. She squeezed back. At least I wasn’t alone. I’d always worried hell was being alone for eternity.
“Good. Now your toes.” I felt a draft as she removed the sheet. “Can you wiggle your toes for me?”
I concentrated and wiggled my toes. She sounded pleased. But then I reached for the next level before I was ready. I tried to bend my knee.
My back arced like an electric shock had run through me. I wanted to scream but had forgotten how to make sound.
“A convulsion, Doctor?”
“Don’t think so, Mary. More likely pain.”
“Should we keep trying to wake him?”
I waited, not understanding the question but feeling it was important. The pain kept distracting me. Please, send me back.
“No. He needs more time. We’ve done all we can here. Put him back under and we’ll send him home. Let the boys in the States do the rest. He has a long road ahead.”
I wasn’t sure what “under” meant, but I had questions before I got there. What road was he talking about and why was it so long? I shifted my weight onto my elbow and tried to sit.
Oh Christ, my legs.
The smooth sense of plastic gliding across the small hairs on my arm. The pain subsided. My mind began to drift.
A bright flash.Soldiers screaming.Dogs barking. Where was my castle? Where was my quest?
Then slowly, sweet darkness. And the dream resumed.

~ ~ ~
Marsha A. Moore is a writer of fantasy romance. The magic of art and nature spark life into her writing. Read her ENCHANTED BOOKSTORE LEGENDS for adventurous epic fantasy romance: Book One, SEEKING A SCRIBE, Book Two, HERITAGE AVENGED, Book Three, LOST VOLUMES, and Book Four, STAUROLITE. For a FREE ebook download, read her historic fantasy, LE CIRQUE DE MAGIE, available at Amazon and Smashwords.