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Veterans in Horror: Interview with Brandon Ketchum


Brandon Ketchum is a speculative fiction writer from Pittsburgh, PA who enjoys putting a weird spin or strange vibe into every story, dark or light. He is a member of SFWA and the Horror Writers Association, and his work has been published with Air & Nothingness Press, Perihelion, Mad Scientist Journal, and many other publications, including the short story collection Legio Damnati.

Tell us a bit about your military service. Years? Branch? Specialty?

I was officially in the military from December of 1994 through July of 2002. I signed up for the Army Reserves initially, went to Fort Lost in the Woods, in the state of Misery (Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri), training as a Combat Engineer. Essayons! Boot camp really helped mature me. I flunked out of college during that summer and decided to go active duty. True, this lost me my college repayment benefit, but I got to serve in the Army in Western Europe from early 1996 through late 1998, and travel to so many great locations. I wouldn’t trade those experiences for anything, not even my two tours in Bosnia or the hearing loss disability I carry with me to this day. I mean, aside from waltzing around Europe, who else gets to blow up as much stuff as I did in Bosnia!

I left the Army three months early to attend Edinboro University of Pennsylvania in January of 1999, and concurrently joined the Pennsylvania National Guard, attaining the rank of Sergeant. Not much happened during my time in the Guard, although I thought I’d be called up after 9-11. I ended up with a foot injury from playing rugby and was given a medical discharge.

What role, if any, did reading and writing play during your military service?

I did little to no writing during my service, but reading, well, reading played an integral part of my time in the military. “Hurry Up and Wait” is the Army’s unofficial mantra, and I always had a book with me. Usually on me, tucked into the giant cargo pocket of my uniform pants. With books, I was never alone and never bored. We were blessed with an incredible though tiny bookstore on base in Hohenfels, Germany, where we often trained. Their horror/sci-fi/fantasy selection was out of this world.

What inspired you to start writing?

From a young age, I had such a boundless imagination and so many weird ideas and crazy characters desperate to claw their way to freedom. As a child, I jotted down a thought or two, but nothing much, instead spending my imagination in reading books and bringing them to life in my head. As a teenager, I was compelled to start writing about them in earnest. Then I met the typewriter, and that damnable machine conquered me. The wonderful world of PCs drew me back to writing.

What was it about the horror genre that drew you to it?

In strict science fiction and fantasy, you’re able to do a lot that we can only dream about. Positive or negative, however, there always seemed to be some restraint to those genres. Holding back from delving the worst our imaginations can devise. With horror comes freedom to indulge in that which frightens us most. Of course, good genre fiction blends, in my opinion, so there’s a lot of horror in science fiction and fantasy, too.

What role, if any, does your military experience play in your writing?

A great deal, especially in the last couple of years. I rely on my knowledge as a soldier and combat engineer, as well as the military in general, in my writing. I recently finished a novel that I’m currently marketing with this logline: When an ancient demon possesses her, a disabled Army veteran must master the magic of the spirit realm to exorcise the demon, or it will consume her trauma group one member at a time. The main character is a female medic, roughly the same age as myself, who was stationed in Bosnia, where I was stationed in the late nineties. I also have her attached to a battalion of combat engineers, which taps into my military MOS 12B (my job as a combat engineer) and makes her a rough-and-tumble character, helping me as a male author to capture her voice.

What is your favorite depiction of military service in all of literature? Why?

My answer must be Blackhawk Down, although I never read the book version. I can recall my visceral reaction to the movie, though. I wept openly, because I thought, “This is my military, the modern military. This could have happened to me.” Nothing before or since has had such a lasting impact upon me.

Who are some civilian characters in horror that you think would have made for great soldiers?

Hannibal Lector would’ve made a brilliant strategist as an officer, if he didn’t eat his own troops! Mina Harker could’ve been a tough medic, given her affection for Lucy and how she nursed Jonathan. I wish the Corps of Engineers could’ve gotten our hands on Frankenstein’s Monster before he was driven to hate. That guy would’ve made for one hell of a Sapper!

What’s something about veterans most people don’t know?

Whenever someone calls a veteran who wasn’t an officer “sir,” the honorific often invokes the response “I’m not an officer; I worked for a living.” Some people either get upset or think they’ve said something wrong, but this isn’t the case. If you hear this response from a vet, they’re just having a little bit of fun.

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