Veterans in Horror: Interview with David Rose
David Rose is the author of Amden Bog, The Scrolls of Sin, and Lovecraft’s Iraq. That last one was included in the 2022 HWA Bram Stoker Award® Reading List. He lives in Orlando, Florida.
Tell us a bit about your military service. Years? Branch? Specialty?
I was in the Marine Corps from 2002 to 2006 (plus a little volunteer service back in 2009, but it was so brief I hardly count it). I’d started in artillery but kicked and screamed until I was finally allowed to try out for Marine Recon. Upon passing its hellacious vetting I became a Recon Marine; something I’m eternally proud of, and the role in which I deployed to Iraq in late 2004.
What role, if any, did reading and writing play during your military service?
Prior to joining, I really hadn’t read much other than The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. It was in the barracks of Camp Lejeune and inside the cramped trailers outside Fallujah where I became a real reader. Henry Miller, Michael Crichton, Dan Brown, you name it. If it was a portal my head was stuck through.
Writing: I had written a lot as a kid. In fact, between 5th grade and my senior year, English homework read aloud had risen the eyebrows of a few teachers who I suppose I’d, up until then, given them reason to view me mostly as trouble, or to not know I existed altogether. Anyways, a couple of years into my enlistment I found writing again. It was sporadic and navel-gazing and hilariously dripping with young 20s angst…but it served its purpose, you could say. Some of it was poetry and said “high art” was amassed into a book called From Sand and Time. It won a national award in 2018, ha!
What inspired you to start writing?
I don’t know, and I hope I never learn that answer.
What was it about the horror genre that drew you to it?
Will this be viewed as a confession? Heresy? A bit of both? I never got into horror proper. Don’t get me wrong, I love Stephen King and marvel at how Ligotti can even put his pants on in the morning if he views the world so bleakly. But my taste prompted me down the shadowy well of dark fantasy and its conjoining tunnel: weird fiction. Lovecraft and Clark Ashton Smith and their unsung genius of a literary descendent; the late, great Brian McNaughton. This is the work that demented me like wine, so much now I am driven to make a contribution.
I think at the heart of this question is why do you like things that are scary? I classify fright into the broader genus of darkness, and, for me, the villain almost always steals the show. A “good villain” makes the difference between a masterpiece and something that was…well, okay. My mother’s preacher once told me I romanticized darkness. I think he meant this as a precaution, but it apparently launched me into a writing career.
What role, if any, does your military experience play in your writing?
Until recently, I made a point not to include much of my military experience in my work. Not that I’m traumatized by it or that I’m ashamed of it or anything, I think I just wanted to hammer away at objects that I viewed as entirely my own. Interestingly enough, though, looking back I see how brotherhood (good or bad), relationships with authority (good and bad), and violence all play key roles in stories that take place in an entirely different world.
These days, I’m weaving my times in Recon with my work like one big, blood-soaked basket. It’s been really fun, and I hope to do so for many years to come.
What is your favorite depiction of military service in all of literature? Why?
That is an interesting question because the answer, I believe, will expose much about how a person views the military, and perhaps the world at large. There are so many good books I’ve read about war and its warriors — Bravo Two Zero, Generation Kill, Marine! The Life of Chesty Puller and, in a way, its utterly heartbreaking sequel Fortunate Son — all of these enriched and (as good books should) changed my life. It may just point to the iconoclast in me, but my vote has to go to Anthony Swofford’s Jarhead. I read it at a time when I’d just received a Ph.D. in the disparity between reality and officialdom. Through Swofford, a voice whispered in my ear. It spoke of truth and beauty, and how those things are one and the same, despite whatever gatekeeper may rail on otherwise. This realization has informed much of my fiction and I couldn’t be more grateful.
How do you feel military veterans and the broader military experience has thus far been represented in the horror genre?
I’m not sure it really has. Seems to me there’s a lot of space for creation here.
Who are some civilian characters in horror that you think would have made for great soldiers?
I have to pull from the deep bag of dark fantasy, but I think Ringard in McNaughton’s “Ringard and Dendra” would have made a fine infantryman. There’s something about his calm toughness. He would certainly do well in the woods, and his special relationship with trees may very well serve as an additional weapon, if not an information-gathering system [insert chuckle and self-satisfaction that I haven’t given too much away].
Who are some military veteran horror authors you recommend our audience check out?
Hmmm, I’m going to go with Charles L. Grant (1942-2006). His style isn’t the easiest for me personally, but there’s no denying his place in the genre. This past StokerCon, Thomas Monteleone mentioned him to me. Thanks, Thomas!
What’s something about veterans most people don’t know?
Veterans are way more diverse than the general public assumes. There’s one boilerplate narrative out there that champions each and every veteran as a selfless, patriotic hero. There’s another which contends in a rather patronizing way that vets are the victims of sly propaganda — and the “best and the brightest” is more a euphemism for “you poor things.” Neither is true. When it comes to motivations and beliefs, vets are almost as diverse as the populations they come from. I’m rather sure the answers from my fellow HWA members during this spotlight will show this to be so.