Wednesday, February 09, 2011

What I Learned in Vietnam - Repost

I wrote this post a year ago, before I received my publishing contract from Oak Tara. It appeared on ICFW, and I think I may have posted it here. Because so many people have been asking me about Yesterday's Tomorrow, where the idea came from and how I went about writing the story, I thought of this post and wanted to share it again.

Many years ago, an idea for a story came to me.
Why it did, I'm not sure. But it took hold and hasn't let go yet.
About a hundred revisions later, I completed a manuscript called Yesterday's Tomorrow. It takes place in Vietnam, during the war.
It has not yet found a publisher, but I have hope. Perhaps then I will understand why I wrote this book and where it came from.

I was too young to remember the Vietnam War being fought. Living in Bermuda, I'm sure my parents didn't get as much news as they would have today with the Internet. Although I don't remember it, there is something about that time in history that draws me.
I have never been to Vietnam.
But as I wrote this story, I lived there.
As I read the stories of those brave men and women who were in the thick of it and survived, I went there with them.

Writing this book took months of research. I didn't want to bog down the story with details about the war or the country, but I couldn't just make stuff up. I've never been a historical writer so I was almost dreading the work I had ahead of me, but I knew if I wanted my book to be authentic, it was something I had to do.
When I finished writing this story, I was a changed person.
Why? Because until then, I had no idea what war was all about.
War to me, was a faraway concept. Something I would certainly never have to face or deal with firsthand.
While that is still true and I pray it stays so, I have a far better understanding of it now. And I think that is a good thing.
I remember getting to a point in my story and having to stop, pull away. I even questioned whether I should continue writing it.
Somehow I felt as though I was stepping on holy ground.
But with the encouragement of others, I pressed on.
They say Vietnam gets into your soul.
It does.
Those who were there and came back will never be the same.
War does that to a person.

I learned that even after thirty-five years, there are things you just don't talk about.
After thirty-five years, the pain doesn't end. Maybe it lessens a bit, but it never goes away entirely.
I am not sure a writer can ever capture that kind of truth in the way it needs to be told.
I don't know that one can ever accurately portray the fear of being in a helicopter heading for a hot zone or wading through a dark stinky swamp with no idea who might be hiding in the depths of that jungle. How can you describe what it must be like to watch a friend die in your arms?

But we can try. And I believe we should try.
Because all these things-the horrors of war, the deep bond created between those who served there, and the ultimate sacrifice so many made-should never be forgotten.

Although my book is a work of fiction, if it does get picked up one day, I hope it serves a higher purpose.
I learned much through the writing of this book. Things that will stick with me for a long time. Perhaps forever.
And I'm glad I did it.

I came away from this project with this question: Do we write merely to entertain? Or do we write to enlighten, educate and encourage our readers to examine their hearts on matters they may have previously ignored?
I'm hoping to be able to do both.
How about you?

"Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends." John 15:13

That's what I learned in Vietnam.


Jessica Nelson said...

Catherine, like you, I want to do both.
Congrats on getting the story down and doing all that research. I'm sure you did an amazing job. :-)

Dorothy Adamek said...

I am so glad you shared this personal story Cathy - it gave me chills. I'm thrilled your journey has brought you to a place where you're now changed, forever. I can only hope my writing journey brings the same deep richness for me too.
Dorothy :)

Carol said...

To deliver a meaningful story right to your readers' hearts is the ultimate 'success', and it sounds like you have a book that's going to do that. I'm looking forward to its release.

Crystal said...

Hi Catherine! I just followed your link from Katie Ganshert's blog.

Catherine, I think your story will definitely touch many lives just as it touched yourself when writing & researching it. My uncle was in Vietnam (via the Marines) during the late 1960s and from what I've heard of his experience what you've researched is TRUE. Although he made it back to the U.S., he saw many, many friends die, including one he thought he was carrying to safety, but who had died in his arms. Vietnam was terrible, terrible, terrible. And yes, he was definitely changed when he came back to the U.S.

I so look forward to reading your book, Catherine, upon its release!