Veterans in Horror: Interview with Rachel A. Brune
As a military journalist, Rachel A. Brune wrote and photographed the Army and its soldiers for five years. When she moved on, she didn’t quit writing stories with soldiers in them, just added werewolves, sorcerers, a couple evil mad scientists, and a Fae or two. Now a full-time author and writing coach living in North Carolina, Rachel enjoys poking around former military installations and listening for the ghosts of old soldiers … or writing them into her latest short story. In addition to writing, she is the founder and chief editor of Crone Girls Press, an indie horror micro press dedicated to publishing the dark side of speculative fiction. She lives with her spouse, two daughters, one reticent cat, and two flatulent rescue dogs.
Tell us a bit about your military service. Years? Branch? Specialty?
I originally joined the Army Reserve in late 2001 as a “46Q” – a military journalist and public affairs specialist. After my first deployment, I decided to join the active component. During my second deployment, I applied to the Green to Gold program and attended ROTC at the University at Albany, where I earned my Master’s Degree in Communication and commissioned as a military police officer. I’m now back in the Army Reserve (since 2014), about to hit the big Year 20. I’m not sure if I’m ready to retire, but we’ll see what the next few years bring.
What role, if any, did reading and writing play during your military service?
As a journalist and PAO, my job was to write stories and press releases, liaise with the media, and stay familiar with the media outlets who were interested in covering stories about the units I served with. In addition to my time in military police units, I’ve served with logistics and transportation units, spent a short deployment with the US Army Corps of Engineers, spent some time as an observer coach/trainer, as well as served on an information operations team. In addition to writing and placing stories, I ran the troop newspapers for the brigades on which I served on the PAO staff. Once I commissioned, the ability to write and read widely contributed indirectly to ensuring that I was able to develop myself professionally, communicate what I needed to in order to be successful, and chip in every once in a while by writing a story. It was also at this time, when I was stationed at Fort Hood, that I joined a creative writing group in Round Rock. I had always enjoyed creative writing, and had written two novels by that time; however, working with the writers in that group helped me understand what I needed to improve, and where I could learn more about my craft.
What inspired you to start writing?
I love reading SO MUCH. Even if I weren’t a writer, I’d still read everything that stood still long enough for me to see what it says. Once I found out that there were actual people who imagined and then wrote down those stories, I knew I wanted to be one of them.
What was it about the horror genre that drew you to it?
That’s a hard question, because horror has always been one of many genres I really enjoyed reading. Speculative fiction as a whole has always been my favorite thing to pick up off the shelves–horror, science fiction, fantasy, dystopian, etc. For me, horror is sometimes a palate cleanser; you’re never promised a happy ending, so the suspense is always far more intense. Much of the horror I enjoyed was transgressive in a way–the “normal” characters were never assured that they would come out on top. Some of my favorites from a younger age were Mary Shelley, Suzy McKee’s “Boobs,” Ray Bradbury, and yes, Stephen King. Looking back, I probably shouldn’t have been reading some of those at a younger age, but I have no regrets!
What role, if any, does your military experience play in your writing?
After twenty years of wearing a uniform, it’s hard to look at any story I write and not see something that didn’t come from some aspect of my time in service. It’s not always overt; sometimes, I include a character influenced by someone I knew. Other times, such as with the horror novel I’m currently outlining, I intentionally situate a story or novel in a military setting, drawing heavily on one or more aspects of my experience.
What is your favorite depiction of military service in all of literature? Why?
THE favorite? That is hard… Probably Catch-22. Because everyone thinks it’s fiction, but once you’ve been in the military a while, you realize it belongs on the non-fiction shelf.
How do you feel military veterans and the broader military experience has thus far been represented in the horror genre?
There are some great depictions of military veterans out there, as well as the broader military experience. The SNAFU anthologies are fun, and I really enjoyed Lee Franklin’s Berserker–Green Hell. And I refused to be ashamed to admit that I love watching and re-watching Dog Soldiers, which pits werewolves and a squad of UK soldiers against each other. That said, I’d love to read more quiet and psychological horror with military characters and settings, and I’d definitely like to see more depictions of women veterans and soldiers.
Who are some civilian characters in horror that you think would have made for great soldiers?
That’s a good question… I’ll put it like this. I think most people have the potential to do well in the military. It may seem strange to say that, but I’ve met so many different people during my time in service, that servicemembers and veterans defy easy categorization (although entertainment media does tend to proffer familiar narratives). Oftentimes, what makes a soldier great is somehow being the right person to end up in the wrong place at the right time. And that sounds to me like a familiar horror plot.
Who are some military veteran horror authors you recommend our audience check out?
As I mentioned before, Lee Franklin is an author I think people should read; she is an Australian Army veteran. If we’re kicking it old school, Ambrose Bierce was a civil war veteran, and his short stories are some of my favorite horror tales. More currently, I’ve got some Weston Ochse on my TBR pile (which looms on my nightstand and threatens to crush me on a nightly basis), and I’m always looking for more horror authored by military veterans!
What’s something about veterans most people don’t know?
Just how much time we’ve spent in the service dealing with bureaucracy. Seriously. If someone out there wrote a horror comedy about the bureaucratic trappings of soldiers trying to fight evil, I would one-click that puppy. Especially if it were written by a former E-4.