Veteran shares his journey to healing with new novel, Suicide in Slow Motion
Coast Guard veteran Reagan Pettigrew may have penned a fiction novel about loss and the weight of suicide ideations but its his own journey the character embarks on, page after page. And he’s just getting started.
“I got into writing as an escape from the military honestly,” he admitted.
Growing up in California, he had a chance to take a tiger cruise with his cousin’s ship as a teen and that solidified his decision to enlist. “I just remember never seeing so many stars. You couldn’t see anyone other than the glow of their cigarettes. It was the most badass moment I’d ever had as a kid,” he laughed.
Pettigrew entered into the Coast Guard in 2011 with dreams of using his time as a culinary specialist to make it to Le Cordon Bleu in Paris and become a life-long chef. “Two years into that dream it pretty much got wrecked. I realized I didn’t want to spend my life in a kitchen after all,” he added.
He spent two years traveling the world after his enlistment was up. After returning to California, he enrolled in college with the intent of becoming an author and writing a book.
“I didn’t realize the experiences I had in the military were going to shape it as much as it did. But it was my journey and I was about to fictionally recreate it,” Pettigrew explained. “The first chapter was the hardest to write, I think I rewrote it 10 or 20 times but I finally realized I just had to be honest about my worst day in the military when I was at my lowest point. It was so bad I was considering throwing myself off the end of my ship.”
His best friend at the time came and sat with him, talking him through the rough moment. “I think that’s what it’s about, honestly. The people you meet along the way in your life are the ones who kind of pull you through whatever you’re going through,” he shared. “With the character, Tristan, you think it’ll be the woman who changes him. But it's really all about the journey.”
Suicide in Slow Motion took six years to write. It was important to Pettigrew that he create something that really connected with readers. But the process of writing wasn’t easy or enjoyable.
“To stay with something for six years, it really takes you out of your life. You’re constantly focused on the book,” Pettigrew said. “When I finished those final drafts and sent it off, it was like I could finally go back to living.
Seeing it out in the world fills him with not only excitement but pride. “I had so many teachers in college who told me I should stop writing, and even family, too. People have said writing this book must have been so cathartic for me but really it was a struggle until the last moment,” he added.
The book brings readers through a journey of discovery, battling PTSD and a deep look inside self destruction. Chapter after chapter it begs the question so many veterans ask when they hang up the uniform; what now?
These days, Pettigrew has found the answer. When he isn’t reading, writing and exploring – you can find him surfing, mountaineering and seeking adventure. “There may be this view that writers just sit around all day but that isn’t me. I love living life so climbing mountains, surfing waves and riding my motorcycle are some of my favorite things to do,” he shared.
As for what’s next for this coastie turned writer, it was an easy answer: more books. His advice for veterans seeking to fulfill their own journey after service was direct.
“I’ve already got four more books outlined. But I won’t start on those yet because I’m actually exploring acting and going for roles that really attract me. So a little hiatus from writing but I’ll get back to it,” he said. “Just take care of yourself. When you get home, figure it out and it's okay to struggle. Whatever your journey is, try to figure it out and go through the steps even if it's hard. There's this funny little quote I have in the book: don't just stare at the wall and think about how you feel about the wall, just do the damn thing.”
You can learn more about Suicide in Slow Motion by clicking here.