When Books Went to War cover.
dead reckoning (ded ˈrek(ə)niNG) noun — a method of establishing one’s position using the distance and direction travelled, rather than astronomical observation. (Collins English Dictionary)
While most associate “dead reckoning” with seafaring navigation, the method is used to plot courses over land as well. It would therefore be familiar to U.S. Army veterans like Keith Dow and Tyler Carroll, the creative minds behind Dead Reckoning Collective. However, they also recognized the term was a great metaphor for describing another type of navigational course – the challenging journey facing our service men and women when they separate from the military to rejoin the civilian population.
Life irrevocably changes between the time these young adults put on the uniform and take it off. As civilians, the once-familiar “landmarks” don’t look the same, and the wayfinding instruments of the past are no longer reliable. In many cases, the only way to know where you are is to know where you’ve been, the very essence of dead reckoning. Dead Reckoning Collective is a media company that focuses on both by spotlighting veteran success stories and encouraging veterans to use writing and literature as a creative outlet.
Dow, an MP (military police), and Carroll, a medic, served together while stationed in Italy in 2012. They became close friends and kept in touch after separating from the military. While their transitions to civilian life were radically different, both endured the frustration of “speed bumps” along the way. However, communication with each other and with their peers made it apparent that they were not alone. The pair heard a calling and decided to embark on a mission to help their fellow veterans.
While many would find such an undertaking too broad for comfort, Dow and Carroll weren’t afraid of it. In fact, they realized an expansive focus was absolutely necessary. “We really had to cover a wide range,” said Dow. “We wanted to tell veterans, ‘Yes, you were somebody in the military — but once you get out, you still have to positively contribute to society. And there are countless ways you can do that.’”
Initially, they called themselves Black Coffee Response, but that soon proved problematic. “About one year in,” recalled Tyler, “we found that our name was too similar to Black Rifle Coffee, another veteran start-up that was really taking off. People were confusing us with them, so we decided to rebrand.”
It was Dow who eventually connected the term “dead reckoning” to the process of veterans reacclimating to society. Dead Reckoning Collective became the new name, and the mission was refocused.
A primary component of DRC’s focus is to “shine a light on veterans living well.” While the long-term vision was to accomplish this goal as a publisher of literary works, Dow and Carroll knew that getting there would be a journey. In the meantime, they recognized podcasting technology could serve as an effective means to reach their audience.
The Dead Reckoning Radio podcast, available on all of the major platforms, has no set schedule, and the topics and guests vary widely. Each episode organically sprouts from social media conversations, on-the-job experiences, or chance encounters with veterans and veteran-owned businesses.
One episode provides an in-depth discussion with a private military contractor-turned law student who talks about his transition and the “counterproductive culture that many post-9/11 veterans cling to.” Another features an Iraq war veteran who started his own silicone ring company. He was inspired by a fellow soldier who lost a finger because his wedding band hooked a surface as he jumped out of a light assault vehicle. Yet another episode introduces listeners to a one-time Marine Combat Engineer who now makes a living writing and publishing poetry.
The content for the podcasts is diverse, fully supporting the DRC message that there are many ways to contribute to society and live well. The common thread between installments is that they promote inspirational veterans who have successfully transitioned out of the armed services, regardless of the hardships encountered along the way.
As previously noted, the endgame for Dead Reckoning Collective was to be a publishing company — specifically, to encourage creative written expression among veterans and promote their literary efforts to the public. In the first part of 2019, this vision gained a great deal of clarity. In a few short months, DRC became a bonafide, independent publishing company.
“Keith has always been a writer, and I strive to be one,” shared Carroll. “He [Keith] first heard the calling and decided to write a Facebook post inviting interested veterans to write about their experiences, then submit them for some form of publication. The idea wasn’t fully formed, and Keith had no idea what to expect or exactly how he would go about publishing any contributions he received.”
The response was far greater than either Dow or Carroll expected — they were onto something big. The Facebook post led to creating a blog. Over the next year and a half, DRC’s following and collection of writings grew. Enter “Fact and Memory,” an assortment of more than 50 poems written by Dow and Carrol themselves, self-published in January 2019. It was the debut release of DRC’s publishing effort.
In the authors’ words, “Fact and Memory” is “a collection of poetry about growing up, trauma, loss, love, and happiness. Mostly it is about getting a lot of things wrong before you start getting them right and how you remember those events versus how they actually happened.”
“To be honest, the first book was a test run,” Dow said. “Tyler and I knew the kind of things we wanted to publish, but this was the first chance for us to work together on something with our own writing. We wanted to get the [publishing] process down and make any mistakes with our own material before screwing it up for someone else’s work.”
Fortunately, the project was a smooth one — so much so that DRC published another book just a few months later. “In Love … & War — The Anthology of Poet Warriors” (March 2019) was a collaborative project with Leo Jenkins, a former Army Ranger and special operations medic. He had already compiled poems from veteran authors but, for various reasons, the project stalled. After Jenkins read “Fact and Memory,” he asked DRC to help him finish the book. Dow and Carroll added some of their poetry and published the work under the Dead Reckoning Collective banner. Beautiful and sometimes painfully raw, these pages provide an unvarnished view of the world, as seen through the eyes of 38 different soldiers.
With each of these books, DRC’s following has grown exponentially. Dow and Carroll have received numerous submissions from fellow veterans who have followed them and felt inspired to exercise their own creative-writing muscle.
Dow predicts the trend will continue, and he thinks DRC has found its niche. “The people we talk to who have some writing experience often express frustration with the big publishing companies because they tend to chop up the material, or they hire ghost writers who have no military experience,” he said. “We want to scoop up the underdogs who may not necessarily be Pulitzer Prize winners but still have good stories to tell.”
“And we want to keep focusing on the ‘collective’ element, too,” Carroll added. “Both books were collaborative projects. The best part of ‘Fact and Memory’ was working with an old friend again and texting him almost every day for three months. ‘Love … & War’ did the same thing for 38 other veterans … it’s the idea that we work best when we work together.”
There are a few new projects in the hopper, including a republished book about the battle of Fallujah. The author was not happy with the original version and sought assistance in revamping the book for a second edition.
Carroll also teased another idea that involves him and Dow establishing a timeline for a story, sectioning it out, then asking for submissions for each one. “We plan to take a step back from poetry, at least temporarily,” Carroll said. “We’ve already done that, and we want to try something different.”
Just as Dow and Carroll’s journeys back from military life followed a nonlinear path, it’s a safe bet that their future journeys will cover a lot of terrain. Such is the risk (and reward) of dead reckoning navigation.
Tim Cooper is a contributing writer for Coffee or Die and has been a freelance writer for more than 20 years. He is also a certified firearms instructor and soon-to-be-famous recording artist with Fat Chance Records. When Tim is not traveling the world on assignment, which is actually more often than not, you will probably find him at a nearby shooting range or sitting behind a drum kit, staring at his bandmates in bewilderment.
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