Shrapnel and Starships

by Jesse Durovey

Interview with Jesse Durovey

Remolinos, the blog for riverSedge, recently interviewed me: Check it out!


Jesse Durovey, co-winner of the riverSedge 2016 Prose Prize for his essay “Afghan Ghosts,” answered some questions for us about his process, future writing plans, and how he heard about riverSedge.
  • Tell us a little bit about yourself, your background, and some of the experiences that have helped to shape you into the writer you are today.

I spent most of my so-called formative years in western Montana, but my family also moved a lot while I was young. All of the moving caused many of my friendships and early hobbies to be short-lived. As a response, I found great comfort in reading, and I loved my local libraries. I read anything I could get my hands on—Stephen King, C.S. Lewis, Tolkien, Louis L’Amour, L’Engle, and heaps of Greek mythology. As I grew older, I also turned to Hemingway, Heller, Asimov, Heinlein, and Philip K. Dick. I spent a lot…

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It’s the Small Victories

It’s that time of year again—finals week. I actually feel pretty fortunate to have gotten over the hump a few weeks ago. Now, I only have a total of 25-35 pages to write between three different pap…

Source: It’s the Small Victories

It’s the Small Victories

It’s that time of year again—finals week. I actually feel pretty fortunate to have gotten over the hump a few weeks ago. Now, I only have a total of 25-35 pages to write between three different papers. If I can keep from procrastinating (the famous last words of any would-be writer), I should be golden.

I want to blog more. School keeps me so busy, and the main reason I’m sitting here typing now is because I’m procrastinating while I wait for my desktop to install some updates; however, I want to have this blog be an active conversation, not just a place where I type a few words now and again.

I do have a lot of good news. First, although I didn’t win the scholarship I was desperately hoping for, one of my English professors nominated me for a spot at the New York State Summer Writers Institute at Skidmore College, and I was accepted! I am nothing if not a complete babe-in-the-woods when it comes to writing, and I know I’m going to have my mind blown learning from the likes of Adam Driver and Christina Garcia—not to mention the guest faculty: Jamaica Kincaid, Joyce Carol Oates, William Kennedy, etc. I expect to learn a great deal in a few short weeks and, hopefully, make some great connections. The main challenge is being able to afford the trip. I’m petitioning my school to give me a grant, and I think my chances are pretty good.

In addition, two of my stories, “Afghan Ghosts” and “Lead Poisoning,” were accepted by riverSedge, the literary journal of University of Texas-Pan American. Two more pieces were accepted by the Pecan Grove Review, the literary journal of St. Mary’s University. I don’t know when either journal goes to print, but I believe it’ll be sometime in the fall. I’m also thrilled that my flash fiction, “Night Hag,” is going to be featured in an upcoming anthology by Centum Press—my first stint as a paid writer!

Still, as exciting as all of these minor victories are, perhaps the best news I’ve received is that the English Department at St. Mary’s is hoping that I will stay to complete my master’s degree—something which I’m taking very seriously. I want to write, but I also want to teach, and that master’s degree is the first step to being able to teach at the university level.

When I left the Army two-and-a-half years ago, I was awash in doubts, uncertainty, and ill-conceived dreams. I still feel the haze around the periphery of my ambitions, but I think I’m beginning to accomplish a few things. Truly, though, I have to give the credit where it is due—my family, my friends, and my teachers who have believed in me these last few years.

Story Excerpt: “Afghan Ghosts”

Below is a small excerpt from my story, “Afghan Ghosts,” about a soldier deployed to Afghanistan who wrestles with his father’s deteriorating health in the States and the deaths of his comrades in a war zone.

“Despite what I told the commander, I knew that pain was a relative term. How my father felt or the jokes he told could not determine the reality of his health. A smile would not erase the tumors that consumed his organs like cadaver worms. Before I flew home for a visit last month, a year passed since I had seen my father. I was shocked to walk in the door of my parents’ home to be greeted by a skeleton—only a bit of papery, jaundiced flesh stretched over the skull of the man who had raised me.”

Let me know what you think. Have any of you struggled as you watched a loved one slip away? How did it change you? I’m looking forward to reading your comments.


Why I Write

Until recently, this was not a prompt that I could answer. I did not write. I wanted to write, and as much as I would like to blame life and my commitments for interfering, I believe it was fear that kept me from writing—fear that I would fail, or that it would be too difficult. I did, however, accomplish the next best thing—I read.

When I was seven years old, my family moved to Montana after my father, a former city manager in Pennsylvania, turned in a group of politicians to a prosecuting attorney for accepting bribes. Unfortunately, the attorney was in on the scheme, and my dad was blacklisted. So, in Montana we survived on my mother’s sparse income as an accountant for a school district. We had no television and no expensive holidays. Our recreational activities were relegated to anything with the word “free” in front of it, and playing outside would lose its allure after a couple of hours, so reading became my escape from the mundane.

During the summer vacations from school, my sanctuary was the local public library. I would ride my bike to the small brick building on Main Street to check out books, oftentimes meeting the daily limit of nine. Then I would return home, weighed down by my load, and I wouldn’t leave my room until I had devoured works by Louis L’Amour, Zane Grey, C. S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien, and Stephen King.

During the school year, my grades often suffered as I lost focus and daydreamed. I would hide books full of Ancient Greece mythology or tales of knights, like Le Morte d’Arthur, inside my textbooks so that my teachers thought I was studying, but really I was reading about Zeus, Artemis, and Excalibur. I would try to craft my own stories of heroes and legends, knights and dragons, which were filled with the fanciful immaturity of a middle-schooler.

My grades may have been poor, particularly in math—which I hated—but my father began to require that I complete book reports during summer vacation to assure that I could write competently. My father was a lifetime scholar, and he wanted to ensure that his children understood how to write clearly and concisely. He also wanted to ensure that we read the books that had influenced his life—For Whom the Bell Tolls, Moby Dick, Crime and Punishment, and Pilgrim’s Progress, among others. So, during the summers, I would read as my father directed. I frequently enjoyed the books, and I relished the process of writing and editing until the report met my father’s approval.

Perhaps it was my father’s demands for perfection that sparked my fear of failure, but I can’t say for sure. All I know is that as soon as I knew I wanted to be a writer, I stopped writing for any reason other than what school or my father required of me. Call it the ultimate stage fright. Perhaps it is as Stephen King said in his book, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, “The scariest moment is always just before you start.” It simply took me twenty years to begin.

Now, I am in my thirties and have had the chance to reevaluate my dreams and ambitions. I have a beautiful family. I served in the Army for nearly a decade, meeting vast numbers of interesting and inspiring people along the way and bearing witness to carnage I had not envisioned as a part of my life. I have never stopped reading with an appetite that borders on voracity. I want to write, even if it is only for a hobby—a pastime as I continue to improve my meager talents. Yes, I want nothing more than to tell stories and for thousands of people to fall in love with them, and I know it’s a difficult and rare thing to achieve. I will be happy simply to try.

I Write to Please My Father

My father has been dead for more than seven years. His battle with cancer ended his life too early to meet his grandsons or even to see his son return from Afghanistan. My father had dabbled in writing humorous stories about growing up in Pennsylvania and learning to fish in the 1950s and ‘60s, but he never pursued publishing. I don’t know why. I write to honor the memory of the father who demanded my sentences attain clarity. I write because he cannot. I write, because somewhere in my stories, my father shines through, and perhaps my sons will learn something of his character and humor.

I Write to Learn

Until I returned to school in 2014, ten years had passed since I had written anything—even if only for an academic purpose. Call it fear, laziness, or distraction, the fact remains that I have much to learn. I have always maintained some writing talent, but whether it is innate or pummeled in by my parents, I do not know. Still, I have a fervent desire to improve upon it. I want to tell stories that inspire, that move to tears and rage, and that make people want to read more.

I have learned so much in the last two years—grammar, form, style, and mechanics—which I have been able to incorporate into my writing and teach to others. I write because, in the process, I learn my weaknesses, my strengths, and how to improve.

I Write because I Am a Heartless Bastard

I have served under officers who have tried to coerce me to lie and falsify reports. I have met people who have cheated on spouses and lovers. I have stood by and seen people lie about false acts of heroism. I have seen all this and worse. I have always lacked the power to do anything but stand by and—at most—refuse to follow along in their schemes. Writing grants me the opportunity to illustrate these people through my words. It grants me some measure of retribution.

I Write Because I Fear

I have often been confronted with death in my life. My uncles and grandparents died when I was young. A girlfriend and a best friend from the military both died of blood cancer. I have seen the death of friends, strangers, and enemies during my military service. Most significant was the death of my father, whom I still greatly miss.

I write because I fear that my memories and my stories will not otherwise be retained for my wife and children. If I should die without reaching old age, how will my children learn who I was—my dreams and ambitions, my hopes and fears? I write so that there will always be a memory for my children to step into as they read my words—experiencing my life through my craft.

I Write to be Honest

Writing allows me to confront my demons, my fears, and my shames with full-honesty—even if that honesty is only to myself. Before I began writing, I would often have moments of despair marked by an inability to communicate my feelings to anyone, even to those I love.

Ernest Hemingway once said, “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.” I have found that it is the type of bleeding that seems to clear the body of deadly toxins, cleansing the infections that lurk below the surface. Writing has given me the ability to examine my innermost thoughts and my darkest depressions with an objectivity that allows some measure of healing. There’s nothing like a little bloodletting for health.

I may never publish a story or poem, and if that is the case, I will learn to live with that fact. Nonetheless, writing grants me peace and calm I would not otherwise have—space to clear my head of my ceaseless ramblings and darker noises. Now that I have begun writing, I will continue to do so even if I am bled dry.


This was the very first contest that I have entered, as well as my very first submission, and I was humbled and blown away to find out that my story, “The Airlock,” actually made the shortlist out of 423 international entries.

It’s nice to enter the fray with a small win, even though I know I have plenty of rejections and losses coming my way down the pipe.

BRILLIANT flash fiction

We received 423 international entries in this contest, and their creativity was exceptional. Contest judge Dr. Erin Macdonald gives her reasons for awarding the top three prizes:

Erin Macdonald Erin Macdonald

First Prize: First Man by Mjke Wood
Second Prize: Mall by Else Fitzgerald
Third Prize: Domesticity Complex by Sasha de Buyl-Pisco

Judge: Dr. Erin Macdonald
Astrophysicist & Sci-Fi Lecturer

FIRST PRIZE: First Man by Mjke Wood
Judge’s comments: I thought this story was a great example of using science and the suspension of disbelief we often have to do in sci-fi set close-to-home to actually create tension for the reader. You know something is a little off, because the science is explained just enough to keep you questioning what is really going on. The imagery and setting was vivid enough that I continued to think about this story and picture it long after reading.

By Mjke Wood

The landing…

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