The Hardest Year is available now:

Carole Wagener, a graduate of the University of Wisconsin, ended her fifty-year career as a physical therapist in 2018. After surviving breast cancer in 2008, she began journaling which sparked her enthusiasm to become a writer. In 2014, Carole became a charter member of Coastal Dunes California Writers Club which has published her short stories and poetry in their anthologies. She lives with her husband, William, on the Central Coast of California. 


Read what Military Writers Society of America has to say about The Hardest Year.


Listen to a interview with Carole here!

"Carole and Bill’s hardest year is one for the history books. Carole’s saved correspondence between her and her husband, Bill, exemplifies the raw emotions, new and fleeting love, and moral injury that soldiers endure. Bill’s heroic time at war and Carole’s tumultuous encounters on the UW-Madison campus during the riots and protests parallel each other as they maneuver through the infancy of their marriage. Through their letters, you get a sense of Bill’s comrades jeering him along and his values and ethos winning that war, but in the process, losing a sense of being and his love of life. This book is a true transportation into the Vietnam era both from a civilian and a military lens."

-Laura Naylor Colbert
 Iraq war veteran and author of Sirens:
 How to Pee Standing Up

A selection of Carole's works have been published by Coastal Dunes Writers Group

by Carole Wagener

Darkness covers the earth. Outliers roam dimly lit streets. Are these Zombies I see, or demons, or just people dressed in black? I can’t tell as I peek out the rear window of my locked ute. I throw a quilt over my head, thinking I’m safe, but somehow a ‘she-devil’ gets inside.Dang, she smells like skunk.

I wrestle her using all my powers, including my words. Eventually, I win by getting my claws into her gritty skin, but not before she brands me with a mark on my left buttock.
“Yeowch!” I scream.
She growls, “You’re too old to bear young. You’ll become a food source.”
I tighten my grip.
“What’s your name?” I demand.
“Moriah,” she whimpers.
My daughter?

I drag Moriah’s sorry-ass out of the vehicle, force her inside my hut, and scream at her.
“Now, tell me your secrets, wench.”
Moriah opens an ancient book of drawings with an alphabet of two-lettered symbols. These same characters mysteriously appeared on all of our huts on this last day of the tenth month.
“What do these letters mean?” I ask.
“We are the occupiers. We will occupy your houses.”
“No, you won’t,” I shout.
Moriah activates an orange disc and throws it at me. A miniature stun-gun narrowly whizzes past me.
“What else you got?” I holler.
She opens another book— a red laser beam shoots out of it.
“Give me that,” I yell, pulling it out of her hands. I strong-arm her and shove her into my washroom.
“Is that all your tricks?” I ask while running the steaming bathwater.
“I’ve got a treat for you,” I say, sprinkling in white crystals. “To wash away all your iniquities.”
I step outside the washroom door, waiting.
“Hand me your coverings.”
The door opens a crack. Moriah hands me her clothing in exchange for a robe.
It was a tight fit, but I wiggle into her skinny jeans and sneak out the front door. I tear those damn letters off my hut and then blend into the night.
Maybe, I’m opening myself up for more attacks, but damn, I’m already branded.


Evil beings run up and down the streets, knocking over Jack-O-Lanterns, and setting fires. Huts, utes, and forests go up in a blaze of smoke. Neighbors are fighting, and others are looting. I hear drones, miniature versions of the Starship Enterprise, circling overhead as a reddish hue covers the twilight sky.
What the hell’s happening?

“Mom, wake up!”
Moriah’s shaking me. I open my eyes and yawn.
“Mom, you stopped breathing again.”
Screw this sleep apnea.


I get up, shut off the breathing machine’s alarm, and open the drapes to a smoky-gray sky. My black cat, Zombie, joins me as I turn on the morning news to coverage of wildfires, burnt-out cities, and people rioting in the streets. The screen goes blank, followed by a high-pitched beep. ‘We interrupt our regular programming to bring you this special announcement. The President has just declared martial law.’