A University of Maine alum who served in the U.S. Army Special Forces will soon release a book of poetry and fiction he wrote to work through the trauma he experienced in the seven years he served.
Ryan Stovall, 41, said he decided to publish his first book, “Black Snowflakes Smothering a Torch,” in the hopes that his poetry and fiction could help others with post-traumatic stress disorder know they’re not alone and inform readers of how nuanced the effects of trauma can be. The book will be released Nov. 1.
Stovall will do a book reading and signing event at the University of Maine’s Memorial Union Building in Orono at 10 a.m. on Nov. 9.
Originally from Montana, Stovall enlisted in the Army about a year after Sept. 11, 2001, when he was 21. Stovall said being a member of the Army’s Special Forces Team, often called Green Berets, intrigued him, but he didn’t know what the job entailed.
“They said, ‘You jump out of planes and stuff,’ and I said, ‘OK,’” Stovall said.
He was told the position involved extensive training, which many don’t pass, but Stovall said that appealed to him.
“If I was going to be in the military, potentially getting shot at, I wanted to be surrounded by other people who had gone through a lot of training to get there,” Stovall said.
He served in Afghanistan and Pakistan for seven years, followed by a few years in the National Guard.
After being discharged and returning to the U.S., he moved to Germany, where his wife is from, for a few years then moved to Maine to raise their children.
He used the GI Bill to enroll at UMaine, where he received a bachelor’s degree in English in 2018. He then earned a master’s degree in writing from Fairfield University in 2021. He now lives with his family in Phillips, Maine.
Though Stovall started writing poetry in high school and continued to write while he served, writing became a therapeutic outlet to work through the trauma he experienced while serving.
“I’ve always had an affinity for writing and so I’ve tried to nurture that interest and grow my ability,” he said.
Much of his new book centers around two five-week periods in 2009, when Stovall was deployed to Afghanistan and his team entered two fights. In the first, one of his teammates was killed while Stovall was the team medic. Stovall was shot in the second fight, he said.
Stovall was awarded two Purple Hearts for his service.
“I have a fairly raging case of medic guilt and I had a really rough time after that,” he said. “I wasn’t sleeping well and wasn’t really myself. It was a messy, emotional period for me psychologically.”
While living through the experience was difficult, Stovall said revisiting those memories in writings for the book has also been “fairly emotionally wrenching.”
“The writing was painful, but therapeutic, like the pain of ripping off a bandage to help yourself heal,” Stovall said.
Stovall said he wanted to publish his writing to show other veterans, especially those with PTSD, that they’re not alone.
While he hopes fellow veterans can connect with his writing, Stovall said he also wants non-veterans to gain something from it as well because all people can experience trauma in their lives and grapple with healing from it.
Stovall hopes his writing helps educate people about PTSD.
“PTSD has a certain mystery attached to it that I’d like to alleviate,” he said. “There are some negative misconceptions and generalizations that aren’t true or blown out of proportion.”
Stovall said he feels as though veterans with PTSD are often classified as “crazy” or “violent,” but that’s often not an accurate description of everyone, as PTSD is more nuanced and affects people differently.
“I want to dispel the notion that we can’t understand each other — that our worlds, backgrounds and experiences are so different that we can’t find a common ground for understanding,” he said. “I think overall, we have a lot of space for understanding each other.”