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Back from Iraq, Aloha writer pens a fictional war story

Author combines Middle East experiences, science-fiction in novel


by: TIMES PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Aloha author Clayton Callahan talks about his military service and how it influenced the story of his science fiction ebook, 'Tales of Screaming Eagle, The Legend of Kilroy.'A preponderance of rocket ships, lasers and alien raider attacks clearly marks Clayton Callahan’s second novel, “Tales of the Screaming Eagle: The Legend of Kilroy,” as futuristic science-fiction.

Just because a story is set in a distant space colony 300 years from the present, however, doesn’t mean all that much in the universe has changed.

The military veteran characters hang out in a VFW/American Legion-like bar while struggling with alcoholism, post-traumatic stress disorder and civilian friends who don’t understand them.

An Aloha resident and Operation Iraqi Freedom U.S. Army veteran, Callahan combines his personal experiences with war and his lifelong love of science-fiction and film into a tale about human suffering, understanding, and lessons learned, forgotten and learned again through the course of time.

“I thought, what if this lost college kid bumbled into a veterans’ bar in a distant colony world?” Callahan said. “He has no idea what life is all about. He’s had all these horrible experiences. He bumbles into the bar with the intent to get drunk and forget about it all. Over time, he becomes part of the bar.”by: TIMES PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Aloha author Clayton Callahan checks out the Amazon listing of his ebook, 'Tales of Screaming Eagle, The Legend of Kilroy.'

Released in June as an e-book on Amazon.com, “Tales of the Screaming Eagle” frames a series of short stories and vignettes in the form of a novel. Jan, its main character, learns valuable life lessons by hanging out at the Screaming Eagle and listening to tales from Kilroy, a retired interstellar Navy veteran.

“The guy keeps coming back to the bar and learning more and more until he can put his experiences in context and come home,” said Callahan, an East Coast native who moved to Oregon in 2006. “A lot of us need that, to understand why we’ve suffered the way we do. Once we understand how other people navigate these problems, we’re better able to navigate them ourselves.”

Callahan, a corrections officer at the Coffee Creek Correctional Center in Wilsonville, certainly draws from his own problems and experiences.

Now retired from service, the 46-year-old cut his military teeth first in the U.S. Navy in 1987 before joining the National Guard. He could’ve concluded his service in the reserves after an even 10 years, but the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks changed his mind.

by: TIMES PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Aloha author Clayton Callahan shows the designation on his military jacket, where each line represents three years of service.“I could’ve gotten out, but I was extremely pissed off at Al-Qaeda,” he explained. “I wanted some payback. I got caught up in the mood of the time. It was our generation’s Pearl Harbor.”

Callahan served two tours in Iraq as an Army intelligence officer between 2005 and 2011. Those in his line of work had a $25,000 bounty on their heads.

“If (enemy insurgents) found and killed someone like me, they’d give them $25,000,” he said.

While Callahan managed to survive, his experiences during and after Iraq profoundly affected him and his family. It’s not just the shooting and explosions that make war hell, he said.

“While I was fighting in Iraq, my son was failing high school. My wife was moving to Oregon in an old minivan, and I wondered if it would make it. Meanwhile, your taxes are due,” he said. “Just because you’re at war, those things have never gone away.”

His experiences with PTSD haven’t been as bad as what some fellow soldiers experience, but coming home in 2005 and again in 2011 nearly cost him his marriage to Shelley, his wife of 23 years. And the sound of Fourth of July fireworks is no longer something he looks forward to.

“The military has lost more men and women to suicide than gunfire,” he said of what used to be called “shell shock.” “The military is just now starting to take it seriously.”

Returning to the U.S., Callahan channeled his experience writing military reports into fiction writing.

Experimenting on his daughter’s laptop, he gradually found his writer’s voice. His first book, “The Writer’s Guide to Adventurous Professions,” was published electronically through Granite Mountain Press in early June, just before Double Dragon released “Tales of the Screaming Eagle.” The nonfiction “Writer’s Guide” channels Callahan’s experiences as a military counterintelligence agent and correctional officer into a reference source for aspiring fiction writers.

“If you’re a writer of fiction and you’ve never been a police officer, soldier or sailor and want to write about such things, I recommend you buy my book to begin your research,” he said.

His Army intelligence background required a thumbs-up from the Central Intelligence Agency, which took the liberty of redacting certain references in the book to his previous life and that of his father, a former CIA agent.

“It’s all about my father’s career, not mine,” he said with a chuckle. by: TIMES PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Aloha resident Clayton Callahan is the author of the ebook, 'Tales of Screaming Eagle, The Legend of Kilroy.'

While his nighttime corrections job rarely provides enough sustained peace to convert his thoughts to words, Callahan still finds plenty of time to write.

“I work the night shift, so I stay up all night on my days off (to maintain a sleep cycle),” he said. “I stay up all night and write. It has become sort of a part-time job for me.”

With any luck, his two e-novels will sell well enough to justify being published in traditional print formats.

“I would love to hand a copy to Mom,” he said.



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