10 Weeks at Chanute

September 7, 2016

chanute-final-cropped-frontWithout a doubt, 10 Weeks at Chanute is a radical departure from anything I’ve ever written before. It went from a cathartic impulse, to a lost manuscript, to a surge of creativity and a finished product that I’m quite proud of.

BORING OLE’ ME

In nearly ten years of writing, I’ve been careful to keep myself out of the equation. Some authors make themselves the star of the show, with their writing a distant afterthought and by-product of their cult of personality. That is totally not me. If you’ve ever seen my tables at the various shows I attend, you won’t see my name splashed up in giant letters on towering banners with me dominating the space as a Grand Poobah over my devoted followers–all you’ll see is The League of Elder, my series with my name nowhere to be found.  I’m just the little irrelevant guy pulling the strings, the odd things and places I’ve created are the undisputed stars of the show, I’ve never made any pretense about that. That’s how I like things.

So, all of a sudden, here’s this little book, 10 Weeks at Chanute–no spaceships, no Shadow tech, no dashing people or daring-do, just a story about me and my military experience set as it happened in suburban 1992.

Me??

chanute-airstrip-1

Abandoned, lonely  Chanute, 20 years later in 2012.

IN RUINS

I served in the Ohio Air National Guard from the end of 1991 to 1997. I went to Basic Training at Lackland AFB with all the other recruits and then finished up my training at Chanute AFB in Illinois. Though most trainees disliked desolate, landlocked, remote Chanute as a “real drag”, I actually loved it, found peace and an easy affinity with the place. I credit my time at Chanute for creating the mature person I am today. In 1993, about a year after I graduated, Chanute closed, just one of many bases to be shutdown and abandoned by the military.  Twenty years later, I decided to return to Chanute, just to look around and reconnect. I wasn’t prepared for what I saw: the desolation, the ruined buildings, empty streets, broken windows and utter silence. It was like walking straight into Silent Hill where the only demons roaming about were in my head.

chanute-final-1-cropped-backSeeing a place that I loved in such a state of smash had a profound effect on me. I sat down and started writing about my experiences, both at Basic and at Chanute. I wondered if I could actually accomplish such a thing, and, even if I could jot down a few thousand words, would anybody want to read it? How could the exploits of boring old me as an Airman in the military during a time of peace be of any interest?

I got about four thousand words into it and then stopped. I was busy pumping out my League of Elder books, the Temple Trilogy at the time if I’m not mistaken, and I had to put it aside in order to get the other books produced. Writing books is one thing, publishing them is another, much longer process. Eventually, with everything going on, I sort of forgot about it.

I forgot about Chanute… 

Time passed. Books were published. I’m not sure why, but in early 2016 as I finished Kat, the latest of the Shadow tech Goddess books, I became rather nostalgic for my little Chanute epic. Lost projects, if given enough time, can find new life, and Chanute was rapidly reawakening in my imagination. I thought about the story, about my time there, and I was suddenly flush with things I wanted to put into the book. The sheen of twenty years had taken effect–Chanute seemed now like a Wonderland to me, a place crying out to be remembered.

hospital-bw-5

Chanute’s abandoned hospital, situated in the heart of the old base, a neglected derelict in 2016, still maintaining a fragment of its haunting beauty despite broken windows and overgrown trees.

I was ready, at last, to continue and give the story the attention it deserved.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t find it.

I couldn’t find Chanute…

Try as I might, I couldn’t find the file. I knew, back in 2012, that I’d penned down around four thousand words–not much but a decent start. The only file pertaining to the story I could find in my archives, was a mere two hundred words. Losing three thousand words, words that could never be replaced, would have sounded the death-bell for the project. I could not had recovered from such a loss. Words, once written, can never be replaced. I searched and searched, I lamented what was lost, I despaired. Then, in the back of my desk drawer, I found an old jump drive. On the drive was a copy of Chanute, four thousand words, just as I had left it years earlier.

I was elated.

white-hall-bw-5

P3, White Hall, once the crown jewel of Chanute, a dangerous, rotting place in 2012. It was torn down in 2016, a great hole left where it had stood since the `30’s.

I sat down and wrote. Over the next few months, four thousand words increased to twenty-three thousand–not quite a novel-length, but enough that I needed to tell my story.  I filled the pages with humor and bawdiness of an earthy sort that soldiers tend to indulge in. I wrote of the birth of my ambition, my fear, my growth as a person and as an Airman, and my sorrow at what was lost. Those who have beta-read the book tell me it’s a fine glimpse into the life of a modern soldier, seeing what a soldier sees, feeling what he feels, far from the lurid, blood-soaked tales of Full Metal Jacket and other romanticized military stories.

It’s just a story about a soldier and a great place that died.

And so passes Chanute AFB. But, perhaps with my little story and other little bits of shared memory, it will live on through the ages as a great place that once was that should not be forgotten.

10 Weeks at Chanute, will be published by St G Press in early 2017.

copyright 2016, Ren Garcia

 

 

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