Thursday, June 21, 2012

PTSD,TBI, and Thomas Tweed

**Way back, oh, 6 months or so ago, I began my Twitter life, and was fortunate enough to make the acquaintance of Benjamin X. Wretlind. Ben is an insightful, thought-provoking writer, and a gentleman to boot. I was immediately intrigued by the unique concept behind his Sketches From the Spanish Mustang novellas, and the book to be released July 1. I've read several of the novellas, including Cpl.Thomas Tweed's War. The protagonist in my books, Eb Maclean, also suffers from PTSD, like Thomas, and so I am doubly thrilled for the chance to host Benjamin Wretlind as a guest today as he discusses his character Thomas Tweed..**

My thanks to Jeff for allowing me to write all over his blog. As I mentioned in my preview, Jeff and I go way back...almost months, and in the social networking, connected world we live in, that's quite a long time ago. What I've learned from Jeff is that he is extremely helpful, always willing to go the extra mile, and he's a great writer.

Since Jeff recently posted a piece on his blog about post-traumatic stress syndrome (PTSD) and how it relates to his character Eb Maclean, who appears in several works including Judgment Tramp, I asked him if he'd like to host this bit on PTSD, TBI and Thomas Tweed. Being the helpful person Jeff is, he said yes (of course).

As Jeff, in his recent blog post on PTSD, said, "PTSD isn't just about having flashbacks (the standard TV drama treatment of the condition) or temper issues, and sometimes the truth of the condition's effect on someone is quite graphic. I want Eb Maclean to be real, but I'm learning that every little aspect of his condition doesn't need to be explained in detail. In fact, most of those details are probably more of a distraction to the storyline."

Thomas Tweed is one of the central characters in Sketches from the Spanish Mustang and his story is probably the most complicated and strange I've written.  It's important to understand that even if a particular story line doesn't seem to include him, he's there nonetheless. When I first set out to sketch Tweed's life, I wasn't at all surprised to find he'd already been stereotyped by many other characters in the book. Thomas is a vagrant. Thomas is weird. Thomas is someone to avoid. Thomas needs help.
With the exception of one character, Thomas is never viewed as the person he really is: a returning Marine who suffered a traumatic brain injury (TBI) in Afghanistan and was admitted to a hospital in Denver so he could deal with his PTSD.
There is a lot of attention given these day to PTSD and an increased emphasis on TBI, however the fact of the matter is, most people don't understand exactly what a person might be going through, whether they returned from a war zone, they were involved in a crash on the freeway or they simply fell off their bike in the worst possible position.  We look at PTSD as something a veteran might suffer, but that's far from the truth.
In 2010, after I retired from the military, I applied for a job to help returning soldiers find the resources they needed. In addition, I was expected to weed out certain people who showed a possibility of either PTSD or TBI, even if it wasn't documented in their records. While I was very familiar with PTSD and TBI, I wasn't prepared to learn about one case in particular.
A man like Thomas Tweed.
This particular man suffered from an acute loss of memory from an improvised explosive device his squad ran across in Afghanistan during a routine patrol. While a portion of his brain was damaged from the explosion, he was able to recall some things from his past. Through therapy, his brain registered the events that were lost as "memories," but not everything stuck. It was almost like pouring rocks through a sieve: some rocks stay, others pass through the slots in the bottom.
This man had a wife and child, and all three needed help.
I used that case as a background for Thomas, and I also wanted to know what other people thought of him--those who didn't know who he was or what he'd gone through. I wasn't quite sure how to go about doing this until I watched a video from the band Shinedown called "What a Shame."
I'm going to ask you to please watch this video even if rock or alternative music isn't your thing. In particular, pay attention to the lyrics and the video itself. (I'd print the lyrics, but I think that might get someone in trouble with copyrights, etc.)

It was quite a shock to see this video and know exactly what it was I wanted to do: portray a man as seen through different eyes. Not all people would see him the same way, but he's a person nonetheless. He has hopes, fears, desires. Thomas is really the embodiment of every homeless man or woman you see on the street. He is a picture of returning soldiers. He is a man. He is human.

The story of Thomas Tweed is really one of the central themes in Sketches from the Spanish Mustang. While some people may think it revolves around the Artist and her gift or the individual story lines she "sketches," in truth the novel is about seeing things from a different point of view.

Because if we don't do this, we'll never know the truth: we're not all the same.
(And I'll tell you a little secret: it was my grandmother who taught me about the license plates. Incidentally, two of my previously held plates appear in this story. If you're not sure what I mean, you should pick up Sketches from the Spanish Mustang and find out.)


Benjamin X. Wretlind, the author of Castles: A Fictional Memoir of a Girl with Scissors and Sketches from the Spanish Mustang, has been called "a Pulitzer-caliber writer" with "a unique American voice." Aside from novels, he has been published in many magazines throughout the past 10 years.


In Sketches from the Spanish Mustang, a haunting, heart-warming and often brutally direct exploration of the lives of seven people in the mining town of Cripple Creek, Colorado, a woman must come to grips with the failings that cost the lives of her husband and child. Bestselling author Michael K. Rose says: "Mr. Wretlind has penned a tale of such emotional and literary depth it will haunt the reader long after the last page is turned."

With a pencil, a sketchbook and a keen eye for the details of the soul, the woman's lines and smudges, curves and tone reveal the stories behind her subjects. Life emerges on the page รณ vengeance, salvation, love and death. The artist's subjects fight for survival, only to be saved in the sketches of a woman with a gift . . . and a curse.

International Book Award winner Gregory G. Allen calls the book a "unique journey that rips away the outer layers of people allowing us to stare into their souls where humanity is universal: no matter the genre of writing."

Sketches from the Spanish Mustang will be available at all major online retailers for $14.95 on July 1st, 2012.  It will also be presented in an electronic format (e.g. Kindle, nook) for $5.95.

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