A Conversation with MWSA Member & Author, Dennis Maulsby


Dennis Maulsby is a retired bank president living in Ames, Iowa. His poems and short stories have appeared in The North American Review, Mainstreet Rag, The Hawaii Pacific Review, The Briarcliff Review (Pushcart nomination), on National Public Radio’s Themes & Variations, and many other journals. Some of his poems have been set to music and may be heard at his website: www.dennismaulsby.com.

As of November 2017, sixty-seven of his poems have been individually published in various journals, forty percent of which have won awards, ranging from honorable mentions to first place. Out of ten separate short stories published, five have won awards. Of his six books published, four have won awards. Maulsby is a past president (2012 – 2014) of the Iowa Poetry Association.

Six weeks before my 1964 graduation at Grinnell College, Grinnell, Iowa, I received a letter from my hometown Draft Board in Marshalltown, Iowa. They wanted to know what I would be doing after my student deferment expired.

Having no money to continue on to Grad school, and being prime draft material, they told me I should cut a deal with a recruiter. Therefore, I went the way of many of my hometown schoolmates and enlisted in Army Military Intelligence. They liked the fact that Iowa schools required language training.

I took basic training at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. Then, true to their word, they send me to Monterey, California for language school. In spite of having a background in French, Spanish, and Latin, they assigned me to Russian. A year and a half later and twenty-two undergraduate credit hours in that language (credited through Berkley) I was in Washington, D.C. taking Russian voice intercept on a modified court stenography machine. After making the rank of Specialist fifth class, I applied for Officer Candidate School and graduated a one hundred and eighty day wonder. After additional cryptographic training, I was sent to Vietnam, being present in that country for the Tet Offensive. We worked under cover as Radio Research units — first with the 25th Infantry at Cu Chi.

For the first six months, I led small units scattered over the countryside intercepting radio traffic and direction-finding enemy units. Our platoon base was centered in the village of Trang Bang. The few of us rapidly became part of village life. The seconds six months was spent with the 175th Radio Research Company at Bien Hoa, A company in name only, it soon swelled to over three times the size of a normal unit.

The real excitement started when we notified General Westmoreland’s folks that the North Vietnamese were swarming down out of their Laotian and Cambodian camps to surround South Vietnamese cities. As frequently happens, we were not believed (see Custer’s last stand, Pearl Harbor, the Battle of the Bulge, the Chinese army secret entry into North Korea, etc.).

MWSA Dispatches: Why did you become an author in the first place?

Dennis Maulsby: A Vietnam vet and a member of the MWSA once told me: “When we returned from Nam, we dealt with our problems with women, drugs, or creativity.” Finding the first two items too dangerous, I choose creativity. Tried many outlets: sculpture, painting, quilting, hooking rugs, and furniture design. They helped, but didn’t last. Finally, I turned to writing, beginning that path almost twenty years ago. It has been very effective in releasing emotions and in creating worlds that you control. American English has over a million words — don’t believe I will run out of them in my remaining lifetime.

MWSA: When and why did you join MWSA?

DM: Can’t remember the exact date I joined MWSA, but it must have been around the turn of the century. It was wonderful to find a writing home, people who appreciated the experience I had gone through, and accepted me unconditionally. This was especially welcome after experiencing the prejudice and hate prevalent at the time against Vietnam veterans. Thank you MWSA for providing a safe place for us.

MWSA: Why did you choose to work in this genre?

DM: My plan was to develop my writing ability by beginning with poetry. Once comfortable with that medium, I would advance to short stories and then to novels. If I could only take the imagery, sensuality, and passion of poetry and bring it into prose… in effect creating a lyrical prose style.

My poetry concentrated initially on themes of war (any war) and after five years, of peace. My first full book of poetry published by Prolific Press entitled Near Death/Near Life takes the reader on the roller coaster ride of war and peace. My prose is ninety per cent science fiction/fantasy and ten percent literary. I was the boy who read all the fifties pulp magazines and sci-fi books late into the night with a flashlight under the covers. Your imagination is the only limitation to the creation and fulfillment of these worlds.

MWSA: Will you briefly list your other books for us?

DM: A. Remembering Willie, and all the others, (war poetry chapbook), NSL Publishing, Second edition: 2005 Military Writers Society of America Silver Medal Award for Poetry; Silver Medal Award 2009 Branson Stars & Flags Award for Poetry.

B. Frissons, first edition 2011 (haiku/senryu chapbook), NSL Publishing.

C. Near Death/Near Life, Prolific Press, May 2015. (Full-size poetry book commercially published). 2016 Finalist Best Book Award sponsored by USA Book News and i310 Media Group in the Poetry category; 2016 Gold medal winner, Military Writers Society of America; Finalist for the da Vinci Eye cover art award, 2017 Eric Hoffman Contest; Finalist International Book Awards 2017 in the poetry category.

D. Free Fire Zone, Prolific Press, December 2016 (Seventeen linked Sci-fi short stories, commercially published). Finalist International Book Awards 2017 in the Sci-fi category; 2017 Silver medal winner by The Military Writers Society of America.

E. Heptadecagon, November 2017, (haiku/senryu with a bonus tanka chapbook), NSL Publishing.

F. Other manuscripts in various stages of completion include another book of linked short stories and five novels.

MWSA: Tell us a little bit about the latest book.

DM: Welcome to Free Fire Zone. In Vietnam, anyone found in such an area was considered hostile, a legitimate target that could be killed on sight. Each of the seventeen stories in this book originate from this zone, any subject, any genre fair game.

Free Fire Zone is a book of linked short stories, each introduced by a mood poem. The stories follow the life of Lieutenant Rod Teigler, from his combat experience in Vietnam through a civilian life plagued with a re-wired brain. A mind now shared with an alternate berserker personality struggling to become dominant. The protagonist, Lieutenant Teigler, links each story but they also cross genres. There is a murder mystery, Gothic horror, war, crime, western, romance, psychological thriller, H.P. Lovecroft monster, kidnapping, and more. I think Mike Mullins, bless him, summed it up best in his review:

Maulsby addresses the demons created by PTSD, but he brings his demon to life, imbuing it with personality and power beyond any description I’ve read before.  One does what one must in war in order to survive and support his warrior brothers. There is heart-rending, heart-changing danger in doing that. Maulsby tackles the topic head on, breathes life into it, even if it makes a reader uncomfortable. By Mike Mullins, MWSA Reviewer

MWSA: What made you interested in writing a book on this particular topic?

DM: Short stories were the next step in my writing career. Their use as a collection allowed me to experience and learn about the various genres of popular literature.

MWSA: What makes this particular book special to you?

DM: This book allowed me to cut my literary teeth on prose. It took seven years to write and three years after to be published. Also, a dominant theme peppered throughout the book deals with veterans and how they adapted both to war and the society, loved ones, and friends to which they returned afterwards. War rewired our brains. I wanted to tell our story from the different angles multiple genres allow.

First appeared in the Winter 2018 Dispatches magazine.