Guest Post by Author David Litwack on The virtual world of gaming and the plight of war veterans + Giveaway

Today I’d like to welcome David Litwack, who recently published Along the Watchtower (reviewed here). He’s here to talk about…

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The virtual world of gaming and the plight of war veterans

by David Litwack

I’ve always been fascinated by how we perceive reality, each of us bringing our own experiences and biases into play. But when we’re ripped from our normal lives and placed in extreme circumstances, our reality becomes totally fragmented. Such is the case with hospitals and war.

Then, a couple of years ago, I became engrossed in the online game, World of Warcraft, thanks to my son. I’m on the east coast and he’s on the west, so we’d meet every Wednesday evening in the virtual world of Azeroth, where our avatars would go on quests together. I was struck by how immersed I became in the mood of the game as we wandered through castles and crypts, solving riddles and vanquishing demons.

Along the Watchtower by David LitwackThe fantasy gaming experience has a dream-like quality to it. And I began to wonder: how would this experience affect the dreams of someone whose reality has been fragmented by war? These concepts—war, hospitals, and the fantasy world of online gaming—came together in my new novel, Along the Watchtower.

I began to research the effects of war on returning veterans. I learned that 30% are diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress. That means after six months they’re still dealing with flashbacks, disturbing dreams, depression and difficulty re-assimilating into their former lives. And that doesn’t account for the many others who are seemingly able to adjust but continue to deal with inner turmoil. The war experience changes them all forever. Many have suicidal thoughts (the suicide rate among veterans is triple that of the general population. More soldiers have died by their own hand than in the war itself). Many struggle with dark thoughts and have difficulty forming relationships, unable to “turn off” the normal flight or fight syndrome, leaving them suspicious in crowds and always on alert.

And then, there are the physical injuries. One of the ironic successes of these recent wars is the advance in battlefield medical treatment. The result is that far fewer die of wounds than in prior wars. The ratio of wounded to dead in WWII was 1.1/1, in Vietnam 1.7/1. In Iraq, it’s 7/1. More are saved, but more come home with debilitating, lifelong injuries. And 68% of the wounded have some form or brain trauma, penetrating injuries from shrapnel or non-penetrating concussions from the blasts of IEDs.

In an Instant by Bob WoodruffTo learn more about brain injuries, I read In an Instant, the story of Bob Woodruff. The brilliant Woodruff had just been named co-anchor of ABC’s World News Tonight. Then, while embedded with the military in Iraq, an improvised explosive device went off near the tank he was riding in. Bob suffered a traumatic brain injury that nearly killed him. The book describes his recovery and recounts how fragile the human brain can be. At one point, the erudite Woodruff could rattle off the names of all prior U.S. presidents but couldn’t remember the names of his own children.

Achilles in Vietnam by Jonathan ShayAnd I read about post traumatic stress. One of the best books is Achilles in Vietnam. Written by Jonathan Shay, a Vietnam War era PTSD counselor, it compares his clinical notes from patients to the text from Homer’s Odyssey, showing how we as human beings have dealt with war trauma across the millennia. He shows how war fragments our sense of reality and disrupts our moral compass, leaving re-entry into normal life as a brutal and agonizing experience.

Playing a make believe fantasy game and going to war both have a surreal quality that takes us out of our normal reality. But for war veterans, the sense of normality doesn’t return without a struggle.

The Wounded Warrior Project is a wonderful organization, dedicated to helping veterans adjust. Their stated mission is: “To foster the most successful, well-adjusted generation of wounded service members in our nation’s history.” How successful we’ll be at achieving that goal will tell a lot about who we are. It’s one of the most important stories of our time.

David LitwackAbout David LitwackThe urge to write first struck when working on a newsletter at a youth encampment in the woods of northern Maine. It may have been the night when lightning flashed at sunset followed by northern lights rippling after dark. Or maybe it was the newsletter’s editor, a girl with eyes the color of the ocean. But he was inspired to write about the blurry line between reality and the fantastic.

Using two fingers and lots of white-out, he religiously typed five pages a day throughout college and well into his twenties. Then life intervened. He paused to raise two sons and pursue a career, in the process becoming a well-known entrepreneur in the software industry, founding several successful companies. When he found time again to daydream, the urge to write returned.

There Comes a Prophet, the first novel in this new stage of life, was published in July 2012. His second, Along the Watchtower, was published in June 2013.
David and his wife split their time between Cape Cod, Florida and anywhere else that catches their fancy. He no longer limits himself to five pages a day and is thankful every keystroke for the invention of the word processor.

To learn more about David, visit his website or follow him on Facebook and Twitter.


David is giving away an ebook copy of Along the Watchtower! To enter, please use the Rafflecopter:

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Review: Along the Watchtower by David Litwack

Along the Watchtower by David LitwackFormat read: ebook provided by the author
Formats available: ebook, large print paperback
Genre: Fantasy
Length: 214 pages
Publisher: Double Dragon Publishing
Date Released: June 2, 2013
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Book Depository

A Tragic Warrior Lost in Two Worlds…

The war in Iraq ended for Lieutenant Freddie Williams when an IED explosion left his mind and body shattered. Once he was a skilled gamer and expert in virtual warfare. Now he’s a broken warrior, emerging from a medically induced coma to discover he’s inhabiting two separate realities. The first is his waking world of pain, family trials, and remorse–and slow rehabilitation through the tender care of Becky, his physical therapist. The second is a dark fantasy realm of quests, demons, and magic that Freddie enters when he sleeps.

In his dreams he is Frederick, Prince of Stormwind, who must make sense of his horrific visions in order to save his embattled kingdom from the monstrous Horde. His only solace awaits him in the royal gardens, where the gentle words of the beautiful gardener, Rebecca, calm the storms in his soul. While in the conscious world, the severely wounded vet faces a strangely similar and equally perilous mission–a journey along a dark road haunted by demons of guilt and memory–and letting patient, loving Becky into his damaged and shuttered heart may be his only way back from Hell.

My Review:

An uncertain young man who has lost his way, escapes into dreams of a magic kingdom. Normally the story would be that he finds himself a knight in shining armor, performing deeds of derring do. Or something like that.

Instead, in his dreams, Lieutenant Frederick Williams turns himself into a different young man, equally uncertain, but instead of having lost his way, Prince Frederick of Stormwind has just lost his father the King and has to earn his own kingship through a series of unfathomable trials.

In Freddie’s dreams he carries the weight of the entire world on his shoulders. In real life, he has to fight his way through rehab after an IED explosion in Iraq shattered his leg and fragmented his memories.

Freddie’s real life, rehab, the hospital, figuring out what happened and what he’s forgotten, shouldn’t blend so seamlessly with the fantasy of Prince Frederick, but it does. The Prince’s trials mirror the Lieutenant’s.

In both realities, Freddie tries to fight with a weapon something that can only be battled by looking within himself. He needs to mourn his losses, not just the men he lost in the IED explosion, but his parents and his brother. He needs to learn to take responsibility only for what he is truly is responsible for, and not bear the burden of guilt that is not his.

Only when he heals from within can he bear to remember the fallen and move on with his life. As Prince Freddie, the lesson is that not all battles are fought with a blade, some are fought by the spirit and the will.

In both worlds, he has a guide. In real life, she is Becky, his physical therapist. In Stormwind, she is Rebecca, the gardener. Recognizing her for who she can be is part of his test.

If he passes, his life will be better than it ever has been. If he fails, there is only darkness. And Stormwind falls. If Stormwind falls, does Freddie?

Escape Rating B+: The blending of the fantasy with the reality works much better than I expected when I first started it. The tests in the dream life reflect Freddie’s struggles in his real one, and I couldn’t help but wonder what would happen if he failed in the dream.

But the story is about Freddie healing, not just physically, but also emotionally, enough to know what he is and isn’t responsible for. It’s a hard journey. The dream quest worked as symbol and story.

The song “Along the Watchtower” made me think of the reboot of Battlestar Galactica when all the Cylon sleeper agents discovered who they were. This story, too, was about Freddie discovering what he was really made of. Well done.

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