War and Life Afterwards: An Interview with Brian Castner

Author Brian Castner

Brian Castner

We’re honored that Brian Castner, Iraq War veteran and author of The Long Walk, makes his official online home right here at WordPress.com. Brian’s history and work are fascinating, as are the writing and photographs he shares on his blog.

We asked Brian a few questions about his background, his book, his blogging philosophy, and his choice of WordPress.com for his site.

Could you please tell us a bit about your unique background?

I served in the Air Force as an Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) Officer, and deployed twice to Iraq in 2005 and 2006. EOD is the military’s bomb squad, so we defuse roadside bombs and all types of rockets and missiles and such. I got out of the military in 2007 and became a contractor teaching Army and Marine Corps EOD units before their deployments, but when the stress and post-traumatic issues finally caught up with me, I wrote a book about it. Now I’m a writer — I do magazine pieces, I’m working on another book, and I blog as well.

Your book, The Long Walk, was published last year. What’s it about? (And is it true that it’s now being turned into an opera?!)


My goal in writing the book was just to get the feeling right — what does it feel like to take apart Improvised Explosive Devices in Iraq and then come home and feel like you’re going crazy? So, the book is a mix of those two story lines — in Iraq and back home — and they are intertwined because it felt to me like everything was happening at once. When I was deployed I only thought of coming home, and once I was home for good I felt a need to go back. I needed to write the book to explain the war to myself, and I never expected it to take off like it has since it was published by Doubleday last year.

And yes, it is being turned into an opera, and I certainly didn’t expect that either! The American Lyric Theater in New York is producing it, and I have been working closely with Stephanie Fleischmann and Jeremy Howard Beck, the librettist and composer, as they construct it. They have taken the project very seriously, and have been incredibly respectful of my family and the book, and are doing a really faithful job translating it to the stage. The first performance of the music, just piano and voice, is the first weekend in June. There was a public performance of the libretto in February, and it was so emotionally intense I had trouble listening.

Did writing the book help you heal?

It did, but if healing was the only goal, I wouldn’t have needed to go through the publication process. There are a number of writing programs for veterans that focus on healing, and they are great, encouraging men and women to just get their story out. I wanted to find peace, certainly, but I also wanted to become a writer, and I did my best to create a good story too, that other people (besides my family and friends) would want to read.

What would you say if one of your four sons wanted to enlist?

The military was mostly good to me, and I wouldn’t trade any of my experiences, good or bad. I have a new family, the EOD brotherhood, and I would never give that up for my ignorant pre-war self. So I wouldn’t stop my sons from enlisting, but I know the military isn’t for everyone. It wouldn’t be a good fit for all of my boys. And because I know the bad things that may be coming, I’m not planning on walking them down to the recruiting station on their 18th birthday either.

Thank you for creating your official website at WordPress.com! Why’d you choose us?

An author in 2013 just needs to have a quality website that can serve as a hub and platform for your books and events. If a reader likes your book and wants to know more, they need a place to go. So I knew I needed a good-looking site, and I chose WordPress.com for a couple of reasons. First, I was comfortable with it. I wrote for an alternative news website in Buffalo, New York, for a couple of years before I wrote my book, and they used WordPress on the back-end. I found it easy to learn then, and since I was comfortable with it, it made sense to build my personal site with it.

Second, and this is no small thing, I could create a decent-looking site for a small amount of money. I’m no programmer, but I’m also not a famous best-selling author who can afford to pay thousands of dollars for someone to build them a site. I needed to be able to quickly and cheaply build a quality site I could maintain, and WordPress.com is good for that.

Fever Dreams

You’ve picked the premium theme Linen for your blog. What appealed to you about it?

I looked for a really clean, smooth design that fit the somber mood of the book. I was able to tweak the background color on Linen, so now it’s got a subdued grey, vaguely newspaper-like feel, but it also has a nice banner system to draw the eye to high-quality photography. I searched through a bunch of options, and Linen seemed to fit best.

Your blog covers all kinds of topics: info on your book, musings on art, stories about outdoor adventures, book reviews, interviews with other vets, to name just a few. How do you approach all this content?

I have a very strict writing schedule, with daily word count targets and deadlines. I’ve found it’s the only way to keep up with so many different kinds of projects, from blog posts that take half a day to write to a book that requires a year or two. So I try to post on the blog once a week, on Wednesday. I write about two main things: updates about book events and writing projects, and topics that are interesting to me but don’t fit into my normal book and magazine “beat.” Sometimes you just have a theme or idea you want to explore, and the words need to come out, no matter how many people end up reading them. Not every inspiration I have is topical for the news of the day — the blog is a good place for such stray thoughts.

What writing advice and tips would you give fellow bloggers?

When writing at that alt-news site, I learned the value of consistency. Readers expect regular content. If you want people to come back to your blog and read more another day, they need to know when. So I announced that I would write columns every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday, and then I stuck to it almost no matter what. I couldn’t post everyday, but I could keep to that three-per-week schedule, and it worked.

Now, my blog supports my book efforts, so I write less, but still consistently. If I’m going to take a week off, I say so. Malcolm Gladwell talks about the “10,000 hour rule” in his book Outliers. It basically says that it takes 10,000 hours of doing something to master it. The only way to get better at writing is to read and write. Blogging helped me get to 10,000 hours.

Thanks for your time, Brian!

Check out briancastner.com for more on Brian, his book, and his ongoing work.

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  1. Janie Reinart

    Brian thank you so much for your service. I am the mom of a veteran. Not only is your blog healing for you, sharing your experiences will help other veterans know that they are not alone. Keep up the good work. Much success with all your writing endeavors.


  2. paywindow7

    First and foremost I want to thank you for your service. I’m ex-Navy airborne from way back in another time and I’m looking forward to tracking your blog.


  3. rhetoricofsurvival

    I need to get started and use WordPress to my advantage. I need someone to go step by step to help me. I am encouraged by Brian’s blog.


  4. colonialist

    The stress factor in that sort of job must be overwhelming. It is heartening that writing has enabled you to heal as well as finding a niche.


  5. Michael Dewar

    I find the interview with Brian very refreshing indeed, instructive and illuminating. Not only the content as it relates to Brian and his work, but the appropriate use of WordPress which has been somewhat a challenge for me. Thanks for sharing this with us.


  6. Margaret

    Brian, it’s awesome that they are turning your book into an opera. That means it has touched hearts and lives way deep down. You comment that it was emotionally intense for you — I would not doubt that it’s emotionally intense for all who listen — even though others have not experienced it like you have.

    Saying thank you for your service sounds too simplistic, but words don’t suffice. Thank you.


  7. boundandgaggedbooks

    This reminds me of Herakles Gone Mad. Brian’s story has a much happier ending obviously, but it sounds like they explore similar themes.


  8. vijaiksharma

    Nicely conducted interview.


  9. timdesmondblog

    Thanks for this. And, thank you Brian for your service. My grandson is a Marine. A number of things come to mind with your story, book and subsequent forms it is taking. Back before Viet Nam got really hot, 1964, I had a college English instructor give us a short story to read and and then analyze. It was a Hemingway short story called Coming Home. It was about a WW I veteran adjusting to home life back in his town. It made a huge impression on me. Also, the instructor also related his own experience as a WW II veteran, and about his own problems adjusting. I’m on the leading edge of the boomers, and our kids and grandkids have been and are going through their wars, of their generation. Yet, one friend told me once only about 1% of a population actually fights for their country. More than 1% do enlist and serve. It’s right that yours and their stories are lauded. Thanks again for this post.


  10. yaseyda

    Thank you for sharing your experience with us!


  11. danniehill

    I’m a veteran of a nearly forgotten war and I’ve been so encouraged by how our citizens are responding to veterans. I want to thank you for your service and applaud you on your writing.


  12. anarmybratpointsofview

    I’m an army brat so I can say thank you for what you have done for our country! 🙂


  13. Ellie

    Thank you for your service; I don’t think it’s possible for anyone to understand war until they’ve been in it. I’m glad that writing helped you to sort out your thoughts.


  14. jose2342

    Thank you so much for this!


  15. marianneunique

    Thanks for the post – it really helps a fellow veteran to know your thoughts!


  16. kateri wang

    Thank you so much for your service.


  17. jvankampen

    Thanks for all the positive comments and making your transition to civilian life and sharing it with us.


  18. bgstewart17

    Thank you for your service. My husband was a Viet Nam vet and a contractor in Iraq at the beginning. He was very proud of what he did over there and I share his pride. War is difficult, but it seems to be a constant in human history and until we get beyond this stage of our human development we will need men and women like you and my husband.


  19. achealthresearch

    I really appreciate the way Brian reflected on his military experience in an honest way especially what he felt like coming home. I could tell from his interview that he found a deep connection to others with the same experience. To those who struggle with PTSD as they return, don’t forget there are several resources to help, and you are not alone. Thank you for your service and sacrifice.


  20. booksandhoney

    Beautiful. Thank you for your service. I have the most respect for people who serve others in their lifetimes and find serving others above serving self is what will save humanity. Thank you for being you.


  21. Nerd7

    Thanks for your service Brian from a fellow Iraq and Afghanistan veteran. Being a combat engineer doing route clearance revealed the nasty life of IED hunting. I was retired from the Army for PTSD among other things. It is heart warming to see that there is more to life after combat boots, and the experiences we have witnessed.


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