1st Place: Aman Bekele
San Jose Unified
1st Place: Thi Le
1st Place: Linh Duong
East Side Union HSD
2nd Place: Eduardo Madriz
Roberto Cruz Leadership Academy (Charter School, ESUSD)
Tie for 3rd Place: Nadia Velez Naranjo, Saira Hernandez, Elizabeth Ibarra
Roberto Cruz Leadership Academy (Charter School, ESUSD)
View Contest Winners Video on YouTube >>
Download contribution form for mail donations
"I am honored that you have selected
The Long Walk for Silicon Valley Reads 2013. The public response to my book has far exceeded my expectations, and I am humbled to have created something that fosters dialogue and touches an emotional nerve.
"I initially wrote
The Long Walk for my children, four sons, now aged 14 to 3. I was not the father I could have been following my return from Iraq, and I needed to explain my experience - my post-war anxiety, my fears, my actions in combat that haunted me daily, my adrenaline-fueled need to run every day - to both myself and them. I needed to get down in writing, as best I could, what it feels like to come home from a war. I didn't expect a catharsis or cure, simply a record.
"Since publication, I have been inundated by emails, thank you's, well wishes, letters of concern, and readers at public events who feel compelled to come up to me and share their own experience. About a brother they never welcomed home from Vietnam. About a niece serving in Afghanistan now. About a boyfriend who tried to kill himself. About a son who succeeded. Initially, I was confused. I didn't write the book to be a spokesman or an advocate, I am promoting no agenda, and I am certainly no mental health professional. I'm just a guy who told a story, and an average story at that. But understanding and gratitude has quickly replaced confusion as I've come to relearn this basic truism: stories are how we humans make sense of this world.
"What higher compliment could an author receive than to know that their work helped someone else better understand their own struggles, or a husband, a neighbor, a cousin killed on his fourth tour?"
-- Brian Castner
Brian Castner served three tours of duty in the Middle East, two of them as the commander of an Explosive Ordnance Disposal unit in Iraq. Days and nights he and his team-his brothers-would venture forth in heavily armed convoys from their Forward Operating Base to engage in the nerve-racking yet strangely exhilarating work of either disarming the deadly improvised explosive devices that had been discovered, or picking up the pieces when the alert came too late. They relied on an army of remote-controlled cameras and robots, but if that technology failed, a technician would have to don the eighty-pound Kevlar suit, take the Long Walk up to the bomb, and disarm it by hand. This lethal game of cat and mouse was, and continues to be, the real war within America's wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The Long Walk is not just about battle itself. It is also an unflinching portrayal of the toll war exacts on the men and women who are fighting it. When Castner returned home to his wife and family, he began a struggle with a no less insidious foe, an unshakable feeling of fear and confusion and survivor's guilt that he terms The Crazy. His thrilling, heartbreaking, stunningly honest book immerses the reader in two harrowing and simultaneous realities: the terror and excitement and camaraderie of combat, and the lonely battle against the enemy within-the haunting memories that will not fade, the survival instincts that will not switch off. After enduring what he has endured, can there ever again be such a thing as "normal"?
To hear an excerpt from this book, click here [youtube.com/watch?v=AV4yvRHwLQM]
Brian Castner served as an Explosive Ordnance Disposal officer in the US Air Force from 1999 to 2007, deploying to Iraq to command bomb disposal units in Balad and Kirkuk in 2005 and 2006. After leaving the active military, he became a consultant and contractor, training Army and Marine Corps units prior to their tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. His writing has appeared in a number of national and regional publications, including Publisher's Weekly, The Wall Street Journal, and Newsweek. Brian lives outside of Buffalo, New York with his wife and four sons. The Long Walk is his first book.
To learn more, visit the website
To hear Brian talk about writing, click here [youtube.com/watch?v=_vOelHipcPE]
The Long Walk...is almost unbearable to read. Not because the writing is bad - it's often excellent. It's unbearable because of Castner's brutally vivid descriptions of the war and the way it tore apart his mind and his life.... [T]his is an important book to read for anyone who wants to get some sense of the long-term human toll of the Iraq war. How many soldiers have been damaged as Castner has? How many lives and families have been destroyed - or will be - by the effects of TBI?
The Long Walk brings home in a visceral way the hidden, personal burden of war that many veterans continue to carry."-The Boston Globe
"Vivid.... Castner's book intersperses stateside scenes of intense military training, off-hours hijinks and marital strife with vivid, often grisly accounts from Iraq's war-ravaged landscape, where his EOD teams disarmed improvised explosive devices, hunted for the bomb makers or cleaned up after their horrific handiwork while dodging gunfire and angry locals... [He writes] bluntly in describing how he has been changed by the war."-Wall Street Journal
"Not the typical testosterone-driven account that plagues the war-memoir genre.... [Castner] gives equal, if not more, weight to the time and effort that goes into readjusting to his family life, and his straightforward, unself-conscious writing paints an absorbing picture of war in the twenty-first century.... [This] memoir forces a reader to empathize with these unrelenting psychic and emotional pressures."-Chloe Fox, www.newyorker.com
"Although the stress and terror of war is tough, this memoir shows the return to civilian life presents the biggest, longest challenge.... Castner offers a brutally honest, sharply observed account of life at war.... [His] descriptions are written with a clarity that brings alive not just the stress, terror, and anxiety of disarming improvised explosive devices, but also the difficult stretches of boredom and loneliness, not to mention the glimmers of joy and brotherhood that go along with it. Even more compelling is Castner's account of just how hard it is to return to civilian life. Back in the U.S. with his wife and children, Castner struggles to keep at bay a host of troublesome emotions and reflexes-together denoted simply as "Crazy" in his telling.
The Long Walk is both harrowing and poignant-an intensely personal story of what it takes not just to survive war, but also to fully leave behind the nightmare of combat and readapt to ordinary life."-The Daily Beast
"Forthright, unflinching.... What makes Castner's astonishing memoir so unique is his forthright, unflinching look at postwar life. To read this veteran's story is to realize that even after returning home, a veteran's hardest battles may still lie ahead."-David Tarrant,
Dallas Morning News
"There are many memoirs of trauma-affected minds, and there are sure to be more coming as vets keep returning. Castner's is an opening salvo in a defensive war.... [He] maps out this new and sorrowful territory with the skill and focus of someone who has had to defuse a bomb inside his own body."-Emily Carter,
Minneapolis Star Tribune
"Brian Castner writes like a man on fire in a searing memoir about dismantling bombs in Iraq - and the permanent scars he's brought home.... Then and now, Brian Castner feels like a tightly coiled spring, ready to pop at any time. And his memoir...transmits this sensation with heartbreaking mastery. His book is so viscerally engaging that it's hard to read it without shaking. Castner writes with a keen mind, sharp intellect and literary flair. His powers of observation are extraordinary - just what you would expect of a man accustomed to scanning every little pile of roadway trash for evidence of a concealed bomb. At the same time, Castner writes with the desperate immediacy of a man whose skin has been burned away."-Brad Buchholz,
"'The first thing you should know about me is that I'm Crazy.' So begins this affecting tale of a modern war and its home-front consequences.... Scarifying stuff...[that is] absolutely worth reading."-Kirkus Reviews
Return to top
"I am honored that my book
Minefields of the Heart: A Mother's Stories of a Son at War has been selected for Silicon Valley Reads 2013.
"On the surface,
Minefields of the Heart is about my son's two tours of duty in Iraq as an infantryman during the height of the insurgency. Like combat veterans of every war, Roman lived through events that would bring out both the best and the worst that human beings are capable of.
"In my capacity as a journalist during that time, I wrote to reach readers and invite them into the uncertain world of families with loved ones in a war zone. I wanted them to pull up a chair at our kitchen tables, to watch the evening news with us in our family rooms, to feel the fears we lived with, the hope we clung to, and the joy we knew when our sons and daughters returned.
"I wanted readers to realize, too, that for many combat veterans, 'coming home' is a journey - a journey that can last a lifetime.
"With today's all-volunteer military, it is, I think, too easy for most Americans to feel disconnected from the conflicts our country is engaged in, to feel that war is someone else's job, someone else's responsibility. So I also wrote in hopes of bringing home the fact that when our country is at war - whether we agree or not with the politics that took us there - we, as a society, are in it together. The moral responsibility belongs to us all.
"While I continued to write about the war in the series for the
Christian Science Monitor that became the starting point for the book, I began to lead writing workshops for war veterans. And I became more and more aware of the fact that war is an experience that transforms those in it, as well as those who wait for them at home. What started out as one journalist's chronicle of her family's wartime experiences turned into a book that explores the impact of war on the human soul.
"As the mother of a Purple Heart veteran, I deeply appreciate your organization's role in leading the community to think and talk about the 'invisible wounds of war.' Mother Teresa once said, 'If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.' It is my hope that the Silicon Valley Reads discussions next year will remind readers that we do."
-- Sue Diaz
How do combat veterans and their loved ones bridge the divide that war, by its very nature, creates between them? How does someone who has fought in a war come home, especially after a tour of duty marked by near-daily mortar attacks, enemy fire, and roadside bombs? With a journalist's eye and a mother's warmth, Sue Diaz asks these questions as she chronicles the two deployments to Iraq of her son, Sgt. Roman Diaz, from the perspective of the home front.
Diaz recounts the emotional rollercoaster her family and other soldiers' families experience during and after deployment. She explores this terrain not only through stories of her son's and family's experiences connected to the Iraq War, but also by insights she's gained from other veterans' accounts--from what she calls "the box" that soldiers returning from any war carry within. This added layer gives her narrative broader meaning, bringing home the impact of war in general on those who fight and on those who love them.
To hear an excerpt from the book, click here [youtube.com/watch?v=dj4cxp_iumI]
Sue Diaz is an award-winning journalist and author whose work has appeared in a variety of regional and national publications, including
Los Angeles Times,
San Diego Union-Tribune, and the
Christian Science Monitor. Her essays have also aired frequently on National Public Radio. Her son, a Purple Heart veteran, served two tours of duty in Iraq's Triangle of Death during the height of the insurgency. While he was there Sue wrote about the war from the perspective of the home front in a series syndicated nationally and internationally by the
Monitor. Those stories were the starting point for her book,
Minefields of the Heart: A Mother's Stories of a Son at War (Potomac Books, 2010). An advocate of writing as a path to healing, Sue has led writing workshops for war veterans at the San Diego Vet Center, the Naval Medical Center, and Veterans Village of San Diego
To learn more, visit the website
"Minefields of the Heart is very finely written. Because a mother's love is so overpowering, so singular in its focus, I had half-feared that this book would be a morass of melodrama. But Sue Diaz is a disciplined and careful writer and this, ultimately, is where the power of her book comes from. She is spare where most writers would be mawkish, she is understated where most writers would be sentimental, and she understands that life, death, war, grief, gratitude and the loss of innocence--hers, and her son's--need no baroque writerly adornments. The truly great and terrible stuff of life is most dramatic when told as simply and plainly as possible. Over the course of her book, the reader comes to know not just Roman, but the whole Diaz family and how they all aged and matured both during and after Roman's two harrowing deployments." --From the Foreword by Jim Frederick, author of
Black Hearts: One Platoon's Descent into Madness in Iraq's Triangle of Death
"Minefields of the Heart is an accessible and well told reflection on the impact of war on the families of our troops today. It is an intimate look through a mother's eyes, giving us a heartfelt appreciation of the military family experience." --Edward Tick (author of
War and the Soul) and Kate Dahlstedt, co-directors of
"Harrowing, hopeful, and beautifully written. Ernie Pyle meets Anne Lamott." --Sharon Bray, author of
When Words Heal: Writing Through Cancer
"Minefields of the Heart is a brilliant, beautiful, and compelling book. Sue Diaz writes as the mother of one soldier and the daughter of another. She traces her son's transition from a boy to a combat-wounded veteran of two tours in Iraq. She lets him speak for himself through emails, letters and conversation, all the while growing in her understanding of him and of war. She weaves together her family's history with the larger events through which they have passed. Though intended specifically `for all who have served and those who love them,' the book should be read by any American who wants to understand what war really does to those who endure and to their families. As a bonus, the book is a real page-turner. You can't put it down until you finish it." --William P. Mahedy, author of
Out of the Night: The Spiritual Journey of Vietnam Vets
"This is a book to break your heart, and to heal it. Diaz writes to and for her son, to and for the veterans she leads in writing workshops. The larger gift of this book is its generosity, allowing the reader to take the journey of a mother whose son carries the wounds of two deployments to Iraq.
Minefields of the Heart teaches us what we might rather not know, but knowing, we are deeper and better human beings." --Pat Schneider, founder, Amherst Writers & Artists, and author of
Writing Alone and with Others