Veterans in Horror: Interview with K.P. Kulski
K.P. Kulski is a Korean-American author born in Honolulu, Hawaii. She’s embarked on many career adventures: the U.S. Navy and Air Force, video game design, and history professor. Her fiction is often inspired by stories of the past; most evident in her gothic horror novel, Fairest Flesh, from Strangehouse Books and novella, House of Pungsu, from Bizarro Pulp Press. She now resides in Northeast Ohio with her husband and children in a house in the woods. Find her online at garnetonwinter.com and on Twitter @garnetonwinter.
Tell us a bit about your military service. Years? Branch? Specialty?
I served in two branches, active duty Air Force (3 years) and Navy (5 years). I also served an additional year in the Navy Reserves. Despite the uniform change, I worked in the same field in all of them—Cryptologist, where I worked in multiple capacities to fulfil mission needs. I loved being part of the Intelligence Community (IC), loved our mission. While it wasn’t perfect by any means, but there were many exceptional people both in quality and talent. It was an honor to be among them.
I also served for a time as a member of the Pearl Harbor Honor Guard, we laid many WWII veterans to rest, as well as veterans from subsequent years, including those who died during active service. It takes a lot to look into a grieving family member’s eyes and present the flag. Every single time, I wanted to cry with them. But that’s part of the job, to represent the Navy, to be a pillar when a family is experiencing unspeakable grief. It is our silent way of saying, we honor you and you are not alone.
What role, if any, did reading and writing play during your military service?
I had written predominantly poems but also some short stories from about age 11. But the military has a way of putting you in situations that are utterly unique, leaving you both inspired and uncomfortable. It can also break a part of you, and you just have to sort of learn how to live with that broken-ness. And the truth is, a lot of us who enlist are already broken in some way. The military gives you purpose. For me, I channeled a lot of that into writing.
My favorite reading memory was working a long overnight shift on a vast watch-floor overseas. It was very cold and snowy outside and the watch-floor was cold too. It was a slow mission night, so I bundled up in my parka and decided it was a good time to do my first reading of The Shining to pass the time. Friends, it was not a good time. I’m a big wimp when it comes to horror, so as you can imagine in this almost empty space, all the lights dimmed, I was effectively terrified.
What’s something about veterans most people don’t know?
Veterans are not all good or bad people. We are all just people. Most of us didn’t join to be mascots of patriotism. I find the movement to canonize veterans as uniformly heroic worrisome and potentially dangerous.
As a woman and Asian-American, it’s frustrating to see the main representation of military stories is of a white man. The military is a diverse place, especially in fields like those in the IC. In fact, diversity is essential to completing our missions. Native speakers of many worldwide languages and culturally literate members provide analysis that wouldn’t be possible, all of it in the interest of the mission and contributing to the security of the United States.
We also develop deep connections through serving with one another. There’s a sisterhood/brotherhood that is hard to put into words. I’m closer to many of the people I served with than I am with my own family, because we were often the only family we had during some of the most difficult moments in our lives.