Lines in the Sand: An American Soldier’s Personal Journey in Iraq
For F. Scott Service, a five-minute phone call one peaceful morning was all it took. Faced with the terrible dichotomy of his moral opposition to war and an innate sense of duty, little did he realize that when he was called for deployment in Iraq that his would be the journey of a lifetime. A tour of duty destined to change him forever.
Witnessing the violence of a country ravaged by chaos and facing the disintegration of his life back home, his sojourn in Iraq forced him to fight a new battle, a battle within himself. What had once been a noble intention became a desperate struggle to salvage what was left of his humanity, an excursion into the darkest recesses of the human mind that ultimately led him to question everything he had come to believe.
Pushed to the edge, only then would he discover what lay within.
1) When did you begin writing?
Thinking on it, I would say that I started writing when I was ten years old. I discovered my mother’s old manual typewriter one day and pecked out a story on a whim. I wrote a three page thriller about a psychopath on a murderous rampage. Of course, it wasn’t really any good. Silly, actually.
But at the time, I was so proud of myself and got a real rush out of writing it, my mind alive with imagery, dialogue, just the sheer thrill of creation. Life took me in many different directions after that, as it seems to do with a lot us, until I finally settled down to write professionally. But I fell in love with writing and imagination as a child… and here we are.
2) Is there an author who inspired you to write?
That’s an extremely difficult question to answer. I’ve been reading my entire life and every book I’ve read has influenced me in their own unique ways. But if I really had to give an answer to that, it would be a series of comics, The Adventures of Tintin by Hergé. As an adult, I’m aware they’ve drawn some criticism and controversy, but as a child, when I was reading them, I wasn’t aware of, or concerned with that. They were simply magic. They brought to life my sense of adventure and imagination, fueled my desire to create stories. They really were the impetus for the road I’ve traveled in my life.
3) What do you like about writing?
Again, difficult. Difficult because every part has its own joy to it. I love when the seed of a story is planted in my mind. I love when I wake up at night, often around three a.m., with an image or idea swimming around in my head and I’m up for two hours or so, scribbling notes at my desk. I love when I’m so immersed in creating dialogue that I can hear my characters voices as I’m writing them and the world disappears. I love revising and fleshing out scenes, making them more alive and vivid. I love when I’m popping, really flowing, and my fingers can’t keep up with my mind. I love when I see the world that I’m writing about more than the actual letters on the computer screen. And I love when I have a copy of my latest book in my hands, a tactile collection of pages that I can hold, knowing it’s my creation, all the labor finally tangible. I hope that answers your question.
4) What’s challenging about the writing you do?
I often say that writing memoir is akin to having one big psycho-analytical session with yourself. You have to really be honest with yourself about not only what’s impacted you throughout life, but how you’ve reacted, made decisions, who you’ve become, and how deeply you’ve been
affected. Also how you’ve evolved to gain a better perspective and what you’ve done to make yourself a better person. That isn’t easy. It’s difficult to stare yourself down in the mirror.
And to try and put that on paper in a compelling way to construct a moving story creates another challenge. But memoir is, in its essence, a written expression of learning through living, and to do anything short of what I just mentioned would be a waste of time.
5) How many books have you written? Can you pick one out as a favorite?
I’ve written two memoirs. Playing Soldier, which just came out, and my first, Lines in the Sand: An American Soldier’s Personal Journey in Iraq, which was published in 2015. Lines is special to me, and not just because it was my first book. It’s a transcription of the handwritten journals I kept during my tour of duty and I think it’s special because it was a springboard for beginning the process of not only becoming an author, but for reconciling what the war meant to me. They both are unique and dear to me in terms of my emotional and writing growth. But overall, it’s pretty tough to say with certainty which one would be my favorite.
Having to pick one, however; I would have to say Playing Soldier because it was a helluva lot of fun to write. I gave myself the opportunity to delve into a greater range of my life instead of focusing entirely on the war and it allowed me the opportunity to stretch my writing. I had a chance to develop my style and reach in new directions. I grew as an author and became more comfortable with how I want my voice to be read on the page. Is there room to grow? Of course. But feeling my writing mature is a real kick for a language geek like me. That’s the beauty of it all and it’s fuel for my love of what I do.
6) Okay. Given that, tell me about Playing Soldier. What’s it about?
It’s easy to view Playing Soldier as a war memoir, the title implies that. It’s even easier to view it as yet another Iraq War book because the market’s been saturated with veteran’s writing in recent years. However, the story goes deeper than that. In a nutshell, learning through living is the centerpiece of the book. While the war is a character, an influential one to say the least, what’s important to understand is that at the heart of this story is the unlearning of expectation, the dispensing of edicts dictated by the mechanism of society as to how one should live life.
I tried to show how I learned to be free from what is often a humdrum prescription. All my life I followed the rules. I went to college. I got married. I got a job. I bought a house. I enlisted with the Army. I stayed within the lines of precept, despite my inner self begging me to do something different. In other words, I ignored my true dreams for what I wanted to be, who I wanted to be, and how I wanted to present myself to the world, for the sake of approval and to be a well-oiled cog. And that’s really what the war is all about in this book. It’s an instrument of central release, along with the events that followed, that allowed me to return to my original, childhood self. The one who wanted to create stories and write books, to go my own way and be myself without inhibition, to be liberated from an inner pressure rooted in endorsement.
Following your dreams can often be an act of reconciling your pain and making peace with your demons. I hope I did a good job relating that.
7) What was the inspiration for Playing Soldier?
Well, the inspiration actually came from Lines in the Sand. When I finished transcribing those handwritten journals into a manuscript I found that it was quite a tome, over 900 pages. Logistically, from a business standpoint, I couldn’t publish a book that size with any reasonable expectation of sales due to production cost. It’s just not pragmatic in today’s publishing world. So, as the saying goes, I was forced to “kill some darlings.” Playing Soldier incorporates some of that previously deleted material. That was the starting point. But it soon ballooned into a much more comprehensive story of my life with Iraq being a character, not the central focus. It was immensely gratifying because even though Playing Soldier doesn’t focus solely on the war, the two books together bring my Iraq experience to a satisfactory fruition. There is more I could bring back from the cuttings of Lines, perhaps in a third book, but for now, I’m content with these two books as the odyssey I had originally intended to tell.
8) What was the hardest scene from your book to write?
Being a broad scope memoir, Playing Soldier, explores and grapples with a lot of intimate and painful events that span my life. One might readily guess that those would naturally be the hardest aspects to write about. I mean, really? It’s not easy to honestly stare yourself down in the mirror with an attempt to make sense of the decisions you’ve made, what your motivations were stemming from, and who you’ve evolved into as a result of incidents, both distressing and pleasant, which reach far into what makes you as a person. Let alone put that on paper in a compelling, articulate way for anyone to read about. But ironically, that wasn’t the case.
While honestly exploring your inner mind, your heart, and how you’ve evolved over time is critical to a good memoir, and challenging, it was the actual logistics of writing the chapter, which is really just one long scene, pertaining to my experience in basic training that felt the most difficult. It was two-fold. On the one hand, it was immediately apparent that I could write an entire book detailing those nine weeks. But it’s only one chapter. So, I spent a lot of time agonizing over which occasions would be the most prudent to include, those being the ones portraying basic training with the Army as accurate and dramatic. A lot was reluctantly cut to whittle it down to a manageable size.
But the real dilemma was which ones would clearly show my transformation from civilian to soldier, while still making the point that I wasn’t aware of the gravity of what I was doing. There had to be a certain childlike element to it even though I was an adult at the time. A distinct ingredient of imagination, the fantasy of being a soldier, that of course would evaporate when I became, what I call a real soldier, while serving in Iraq. It was a lot to handle in a concise, yet vivid and cogent way.
9) Why did you choose to write in the nonfiction/memoir genre?
Well, it seemed natural at the time. While I was in Iraq, I toted those journals around with me everywhere I went, slowly filling them, day to day. When I came back, they were tattered… and filled with my scribbles, my doodles, stuffed with newspaper clippings from Stars and Stripes, cards and memorabilia I had collected. It took me… a good five or six years to open them again. The pain of Iraq felt too great. But when I did, mostly out of a sense of curiosity, a weird desire to reacquaint myself with that person overseas whom I had desperately tried to forget, at that point, I realized I had a solid story in them. I also realized I wanted to tell it. What resulted was Lines in the Sand. I still have those journals. They’re in a box in the basement.
10) What’s the main reason someone should really read this book?
I think that inspiration should be a motivator. One of the most important lessons I learned from the war is that it’s crucial to our emotional well-being, as people, to chase down our dreams. Our lives on this planet are a mere blink and to simply resign oneself to what society deems is important, to smother our dreams with what others tell us we should be doing, is doing oneself an injustice. Live your life, your dreams are real and valid, and I hope this book can serve as some sort of encouragement.
11) Is There a Message in Your Novel That You Want Readers to Grasp?
Well, I think I would have to say, as I did before, that while it’s easy to bill Playing Soldier as a war memoir, it’s really not. Yes, the war is a character. It has to be since it was such a life changing event for me. But the core of Playing Soldier is deeper. What I would like people to see in this story is that more than anything else in our lives, this mere blink on a small planet roaming around a universe so large we can’t comprehend it, is that it’s so critical to do what you want with this life.
Society has a strong pull. It compels us to acquiesce to what others, some strange powers of convention, have prescribed. So many people I know have dreams they long for, but never do anything about them. They end up wishing their lives away, resigning themselves that this is all there is. But it doesn’t always have to be that way. I often think to myself that when I’m pulling in my last breath, I want to say, “I did,” instead of, “I should have.” Follow your dreams. They’re worth living because before you know it, it’s all over.
12) What was your main drive to write this book?
Truthfully? To not be a one book wonder… well, not wonder so much as I don’t consider myself one. But for me, more than anything else, I needed to prove to myself that I could write more than one book. The way I see it, if I never become a best selling author, I really don’t care. I write for myself because it’s what I love to do and one thing the war taught me was that I only have this one life. I’m proud of my books. Doesn’t get much better than that.
13) Tell us a little about yourself? Perhaps something not many people know?
I’m a huge fan of the old black and white films from the 30s and 40s. I get it from my father who was a movie theater projectionist for part of his life. He introduced me to Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, James Cagney, Jimmy Stewart, Ingrid Bergman, Cary Grant, Bette Davis, Lana Turner, Ray Milland, Gregory Peck, a whole host of others. I also have an extensive collection of Alfred Hitchcock films. I’m sure I’m not alone in saying this, but Psycho, both the film and the book, are eternal.
Thank you, F Scott and RABT Book Tours
About the Author
I live in New England with a talented social worker (who also happens to be my EIC) and Jerome… a trouble maker unless he’s purring for an evening snack.
Having earned a Bachelor of Science in Professional/Technical Communication and a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing, I have had experience with editing, journalism, desktop publishing, videography, and am a full-time author.
I enjoy gardening and cooking with an emphasis on ethnic foods including Indian, Thai, Russian, Czechoslovakian, Hungarian, Chinese, Spanish, Middle Eastern (especially Algerian, Iraqi, and Egyptian), Mexican, and Italian. My next venture in culinary delight will be with Caribbean food.
Being an avid explorer, I’ve spent time in all but two states in America and am always on the lookout for someplace new (I just never thought it would be Iraq and Kuwait as my first international travel destinations). On my list of new places are Pitcairn Island, Easter Island, Stonehenge, Leap Castle in Ireland, the Hobbit village in New Zealand, Hunyad Castle in Romania, and the Mayan ruins in the Yucatan Peninsula.
Other interests of mine include horror literature and memoir, a long-standing fascination with UFO, paranormal, and occult phenomena as well as playing guitar, backpacking, and bike riding