Rappahannock Review Fiction Editors: We’re interested in how “Kill Chain” explores the theme of connectivity between seemingly disparate people. What inspired you to take on that theme?

Adam Straus:  I started with a vague idea of doing something that revolved around Marine snipers, someone working in an operations center, and their target. My “aha!” moment came when I started drafting McKayla’s scene, and I found her texting her sister. That was how the story reached back to America. Insomuch as there’s a statement here, it’s in the title: To what extent, if at all, are the American public connected to and responsible for the wars we fight overseas, even if they remain totally and blissfully ignorant of them? And to what extent, if at all, should veterans begrudge that blissful ignorance? I feel strongly that my answer for the first question is “to the fullest extent.” I’m still working on my answer for the second. 

RR: We read the story as being in the form of tableaux, which gives us a look into the lives of a wide assortment of characters. How did you develop that as the structure of the work?

AS: Once I had those first steps in place (Eustace and Black to McKayla to Daisy), I knew the narrative had to end with (spoiler alert!) the snipers’ target, Mohammad Abdul. I then had to figure out how the hell I was going to get from Helmand Province to Minneapolis and back again in some reasonable amount of time. Sequential and near-simultaneous snapshots of these characters seemed like a logical possibility, and once I started work on those snapshots, I was having too much fun to think of doing anything else. 

RR: We found the characters really compelling, even as they were each developed only briefly. Did you have any conscious rules or plan when creating them?

AS: Whenever I’m building a character on the page, I find myself looking for a “twist,” something on-point but off-kilter that will deepen the reader’s understanding of them as a human. I wrote this story for an MFA workshop, and part of my goal was to get better at this, to see if I could paint these sketches well enough to carry the story’s weight. I’m glad you think it worked!

RR: “Kill Chain” is obviously steeped in the military and the war in Afghanistan. How does your own experience in the military reflect in this piece?

AS: I served in Afghanistan from October 2019-March 2020. Though I was an infantry officer, my experience was extremely mild; I never heard a shot fired in anger, and I spent most of my time sitting around on FOBs like the one where McKayla Palmer works. On that deployment, I found myself constantly wondering what everyone at home was doing at any given moment. The fact that those moments existed in tandem blew my mind in a simple way: I’m here, they’re there. What would a cross section of one such moment reveal? This story is my best attempt at an answer.

RR: Do you like to read military fiction? If so, what’s one of your favorite pieces or books?

AS: Speaking strictly of fiction, Redeployment by Phil Klay is rightly considered the seminal work of American literature from the War on Terror. Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk by Ben Fountain is an incisive day-long look at America’s broken relationship with its military. Elliot Ackerman, John Milas, Brian Van Reet, Will Mackin, Matt Gallagher, and Dewaine Farria have all written brilliantly about Iraq, Afghanistan, and other lesser-known GWOT theaters. But if you’re only accepting one recommendation, I’m looking back to the Gulf War: Dear Mr. President by Gabe Hudson. When I first read that collection, it fundamentally changed my mind about what war stories could be. 


Read “Kill Chain” by Adam Straus in Issue 11.1.