500 Miles an Hour is a hard-hitting, in-your-face, combat experience seen through the eyes of a Marine serving in Iraq. It details mental, physical, and spiritual injuries that could haunt a person for a lifetime, then guides the reader along a pathway of healing from the traumas of war. Take this journey of friendship, pride, and love with a staff sergeant leading his men into combat, while tackling the walls of protection he builds around himself. If 500 Miles an Hour could be boiled down to one word, it would be survival—man’s most basic and deadly instinct. All stress injuries are different, but the treatment is the same. It starts with you.
After much soul-searching and deliberation, and many sleepless nights counting stars, Shawn decided to join the Marine Corps. He served 13 years, attaining the rank of staff sergeant and deploying twice to Iraq, where he led marines through combat. In his time of service, he endured hardships and victories that will forever link him to the brotherhood of arms.
As an emerging author, Shawn uses fiction writing to help him through his struggles with post-traumatic stress disorder. Writing is cathartic for him, allowing for the painful memories to flow from his brain and heart, down his hands, out of his body, and onto the page. This, along with the love of his family and friends, has brought stability to his life. He currently develops and directs course curricula for the Enlisted Professional Military Education Distance Education Program at Marine Corps University. Shawn makes his home in the beautiful state of Virginia.
UPDATE: See the following TV interview with Shawn about his book – http://www.myhighplains.com/story/d/story/a-hometown-heros-battle/39957/Bi2SbLj4w0yAonpvOEp1Bw
Find interviews like this one on the Military Veterans in Creative Careers podcast.
Justin Sloan: Thank you for agreeing to share your experience in the military and as an author with us. Before getting into publishing and writing, please tell us more about your military service. What did you do, and what do you feel were your biggest life-lessons from your time in the military?
Shawn Garrett: I joined the United States Marine Corps on January 26, 1998. I retired from the Marine Corps January 30, 2011 at the rank of a Staff Sergeant. I served two combat tours of duty in Iraq. My first tour was in 2006 as a machine gun section leader and my second tour was in 2007-2008 as an infantry platoon sergeant. I am very proud to have had the opportunity to serve this great country of ours. Being in the Marine Corps I was taught: Self discipline, responsibility for self and others, maintaining good physical and grooming standards, and to be prompt at all times. The lessons that we were taught in boot camp will carry us all the way through our lives. The culture of the Marine Corps has prepared us for combat or to be very productive citizens of the United States. My biggest life-lesson is to give back what has been given to me.
JS: At what point did you decide you wanted to write? Were you still in the military, and what went through your head that made you want to take on the monstrous task of creating a novel?
SG: I suffered three really bad flashbacks within a three week period. They were so bad I could not work for the whole day. I would be curled up on the floor crying with waves of emotions crashing over me and the heavy current pulling me back out into the ocean. I would recover from the memory and then I would try to figure out what caused the flashback. When I’d probe the memory, I ended up right back on the floor. My flashbacks were the foundation for writing 500 Miles an Hour. I was retired from the Marine Corps when I started writing my experiences down. I started writing for my eyes only. It was for me! It was only after I started writing that I knew other service members could benefit from the story. Writing the novel was easy for me. Within six months I had created a 220 page document. Getting the words down on paper has never been the issue.
JS: Why do you write? What drives you?
SG: I wrote for the healing effect that writing my experience down gave me. It became an addiction and I could not stop. I wanted more and more of that feeling. The driving force behind 500 Miles an Hour is to help others find their own path of healing.
JS: Your book, 500 Miles an Hour, obviously relies heavily on your military past. Did you find this was enough, or did you have to research military terms and combat above what you already knew? If so, how did you go about this research?
SG: I relied on many years of military service and my four tours of duty. My four deployments were broken into two peace time and two combat deployments. These years and deployments provided me with the material I needed to write 500 Miles an Hour.
JS: How has writing the book helped you, and how do you hope it will affect those who read it?
SG: Since writing my novel, I haven’t had one flashback. Not one bad memory or thought. My intent is to show others that if I can do this, other service members can find healing within themselves by writing, too. Writing is a form—or device—to get those memories out of your head where they can no longer control you. The memory is now on paper and so its claws cannot smother you anymore.
JS: How did you go about learning the craft? Did you read any books on writing, take any classes, or jump right in?
SG: To be honest, I just jumped in and did it. I still don’t know what I’m doing but it’s working. I have no formal training or classes, and have never even taken typing. I just did what felt natural. I can’t believe it has happened.
JS: What is your writing process? Do you have any routines that keep you going?
SG: I did not map out the story line. I just went for the ride. The beginning changed a couple of times, but I knew how I wanted to end the book. The story itself took me there and when I did get to the end I knew I’d accomplished the task I had set for myself – which is to help others.
JS: When you finished writing, what was the next step? How did you find your publisher?
SG: After I had my 220 page first draft, that’s when I started looking for a publisher. I think it took about three months to find Zharmae Publishing Press. What a great publisher. The people are amazing. They really got behind the novel and got it out to the world.
JS: What was the process like, going from submission to the moment that your book was published?
SG: This process has been very quick from my limited experience. The communication between myself and the editor has been nothing but spectacular. We worked together to pump out 500 Miles an Hour within what seemed like 6 to 9 months, and before I knew it a highly polished novel hit the streets running like the wind. 500 Miles an Hour has been a blessing to write and I’m very humbled to have this enormous opportunity come my way.
I would like to take this moment to let you know of a wonderful person, true friend, and mentor to me through this whole process. Heather Ashby is a military romance author and she has been a huge influence on my life as a new author. She just recently launched her fourth novel Unforgettable with co-author retired Major Christopher Bergeron, USMC. Heather took time out of her busy schedule to help a young author and showed me the ropes to allow me to maneuver the waters of publication and promotion. I have been blessed to know these two magnificent authors. They have brought a level of closeness and esprit de corps as authors. I will always be grateful for Heather’s leadership, wisdom, and mentorship of me and I want to say thank you to Heather Ashby.
JS: I am glad to hear veterans are helping veterans! Now that you are a published author, what advice do you have for the early days of promoting your book? Have you seen book signings to be useful? How about your online presence?
SG: My advice for any and to all authors is to push your platform on all social media outlets to get the message out. There will come a point that 500 Miles an Hour will take on a life of its own, but until then, authors need to inform others by using online sites.
JS: Thank you again for the interview, Shawn. Before we sign off, do you have any last piece of advice to leave us with?
SG: I will leave you with this quote that I use a lot in my life and it has help me to get over a lot of internal or external issues. It is about mind over matter. “If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.” I would like to say thank you for your time, Justin. “May God keep fair wind in your sails and calm seas.” “Semper Fidelis.”
These interviews, along with the author’s advice, are available in the book Military Veterans in Creative Careers.
To follow Justin Sloan: http://eepurl.com/bbpNjv