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 What people are saying about Haunting Legacy

"What a terrific book!"

Lesley Stahl, correspondent for 60 Minutes


"This is great narrative history and biography combined to create informative case studies."

Walter Isaacson, president and CEO of the Aspen Institute


"Marvin Kalb and Deborah Kalb’s account of this phenomenon is studiously researched, vividly narrated, and, above all, highly readable. It will stand as a major contribution to the subject."

Stanley Karnow, author of Vietnam: A History and winner of the Pulitzer Prize

 

To read more reviews of Haunting Legacy, click here.

Thursday
Nov292018

Q&A with Steve Watkins

Steve Watkins is the author of the new young adult novel On Blood Road, which takes place during the Vietnam War. His other books include Sink or Swim and Great Falls. He is a former professor of journalism, creative writing, and Vietnam War literature, he cofounded a nonprofit yoga studio, and he lives in Fredericksburg, Virginia.

 
Q: How did you come up with the idea for On Blood Road and for your character Taylor?

 
A: I guess it grew out of the idea that we were all tourists in a weird way, in terms of our involvement in the War in Vietnam. During the war you actually could go there as a tourist, and many did.


Plenty of family members made the trip over--at least to Saigon and protected areas on the coast. Continental Airlines flew direct from the States, I think.


If you read accounts of the war from the American perspective, most of them barely mention the Vietnamese, except as marginal players--either illiterate villagers who were either Viet Cong spies or hapless victims, evil North Vietnamese who happily tortured, ambushed, maimed, and killed in cowardly ways, or prostitutes.

 

None of which was true, except in the popular American consciousness, and the terrible John Wayne film The Green Berets.

 

So I wanted to take a privileged kid from the States, clueless about what was really going on and not having to think too much about it, and drop him into the center of the insanity. Also this year is the 50th anniversary of the Tet Offensive and the Siege at Khe Sanh.

 

Q: What type of research did you do to write the novel, and did you learn anything that especially surprised you?

 

A: A LOT of research, starting years ago when I first began teaching a college course on the literature of the Vietnam War. So I've read a considerable number of accounts of the war over the years--novels, short stories, poems, memoirs, historical accounts, analyses, films, documentaries--that helped prepare me to write this book.

 

I read a number of books and articles on the so-called Ho Chi Minh Trail (Blood Road), including the definitive work on the subject by the journalist John Prados, who Scholastic actually ended up hiring to vet the manuscript of On Blood Road, which was quite an honor, and quite nerve-wracking as I waited for him to pass judgement as it were.

 

Not surprising, exactly, but heart-breaking nonetheless, was learning, or being reminded of, the utter devastation from the bombing we did for years in North Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia to interrupt the supply lines, and the countless victims of those millions of bombs even today.

 

Q: Did you know how the novel would end before you started writing it, or did you make many changes along the way?


A: Didn't know, but certainly hoped Taylor would find a way to survive. The Vietnamese characters grew in importance as I wrote the book, as you might expect, and that determined--and changed--a lot of the directions I may originally have had in mind. I must have written the ending a dozen times or more. 


Q: How much do you assume your readers will know about the Vietnam War before coming to the book, and what do you hope they take away from it?

 
A: Younger readers won't know much, which is why we added the truncated summary of the war in the Author's Note at the end, and why there are some hopefully non-intrusive expository sections in the novel, to provide enough context for events for readers who aren't up to speed on the history.


I hope they come away with a thousand questions about the war they want to explore for themselves. And an understanding of the deep complexities of this and any war and the people who fight in it and are affected by it.

 

Q: What are you working on now?

 
A: A novel about teenagers in the French Resistance in Occupied France during World War II, and the tragic experiences of some of them who were sent to the only Nazi-run concentration camp (and associated work camps) in France during the war, in Alsace-Lorraine. Truly terrible, terrible stuff that I'm having a difficult time getting my writer's head around how to handle. 


Q: Anything else we should know?

 
A: Yes. We absolutely need stricter gun laws in this country, and it's criminal negligence that we don't. Off topic, I know, but perhaps not really.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb. This interview can also be found on deborahkalbbooks.blogspot.com.

Thursday
Jun212018

Q&A with Elizabeth Partridge

Elizabeth Partridge is the author of Boots on the Ground: America's War in Vietnam, a new book for teens. Her other books include This Land Was Made for You and  Me and Marching for Freedom. She lives in the San Francisco Bay area.


Q: Why did you decide to write Boots on the Ground?


A: We saw a lot of coverage of the war on television and in magazines and newspapers when I was in high school and college. I was in the San Francisco Bay area where there were a lot of protests, and I often joined them.


I just could not see why our country needed to be in Vietnam, and I wanted us to get out. In the news coverage, I could see that not only were American troops being injured and killed, but Vietnamese military and civilians were as well. It all seemed senseless to me.


After the war, Vietnam veterans and protestors didn't mix. Most veterans rarely spoke about their service, just kept their heads down and tried to get on with their lives.


We had not yet learned as a country to separate the war from the warriors. Many veterans were traumatized, and there was little or no help for them from the Veterans Administration. PTSD  (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) had not yet been invented as term to describe the complex mental health issues that some veterans face.


Several years ago I went to visit the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. It was late afternoon on a cold autumn day, and I was nearly alone at the Wall. I reached out to touch the letters of the names written on the memorial, and my eyes filled with tears.


I thought, why am I crying? I don't know anyone listed on this memorial. That got me thinking about the war, and I realized how little I knew. I needed to understand what the war had been like for the people who served there.


By interviewing seven veterans I was able to hear about their experiences first-hand. All of them had friends or buddies who died in Vietnam and whose names are on the Wall. I added the place on the memorial where their names were located. I also interviewed a refugee and included a chapter on her harrowing story, because there is never a war without refugees.


Q: The book includes chapters on a variety of people, including presidents and Vietnam veterans. How did you decide which figures to include?


A: I structured the book around the veterans, the years they were in Vietnam, and the experiences they had. Then I interspersed their chapters with chapters on what was happening back home -- the presidents, policies, and protestors.


Deciding who to include was partially intentional, and partially intuitive, as I followed one lead to another. This is actually my favorite way to write a good nonfiction book -- the research process will turn up things I have never heard of, which will send me in a new direction.


Q: What do you hope readers take away from the book?


A: I would like teenagers who read Boots on the Ground to see that war is hell. There is just no way around it. Some young men see war as a great adventure, but it is also suffering, death, and unbelievable destruction.
I am not against anyone who chooses to join the military -- there are many reasons people do -- but I would like young men and women to have a realistic view of war.


A number of Vietnam veterans have come to my book talks. After decades of remaining silent, many are eager talk about their experiences, and to be heard.


We often don't know if it is even okay to ask veterans about their service. A good way to start a conversation is to ask, "Can I ask you a few questions about your time in Vietnam?"


Young people often know one of their grandparents or other family member served in the military, but not if they were in Vietnam. It's okay to ask! It might be just the perfect way to start a conversation.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: I'm doing a picture book on Frederick Law Olmsted, who built so many terrific public parks in cities across America. This book is a pleasure to write, and gives me a breather from some of the more difficult subjects I like to tackle.


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: I think what most surprised me about writing this book is how courageous I found the veterans to be. Many of them didn't want to go to Vietnam, but they did. Some because they were patriots, and if they were asked to serve, they went. Others went because we had a draft, and they faced compulsive military service.


But once in the military, they were incredibly courageous. Not only in caring for and defending their brothers in the military, but in how they coped with the many obstacles and difficulties they faced.


And once home, they had to work hard to pull their lives together. And it wasn't something they did and moved on. It has been a lifetime issue for many of them. I have profound respect for all of them.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb. This Q&A also appears on deborahkalbbooks.blogspot.com.

Monday
Jun112018

Q&A with Sheila O'Connor

Sheila O’Connor is the author of Until Tomorrow, Mr. Marsworth, a new novel for kids. Her other books include Sparrow Road and Keeping Safe the Stars, and her work has appeared in a variety of publications, including Bellingham Review and Minnesota Monthly. She teaches in the MFA program at Hamline University and is fiction editor for Water~Stone Review.


Q: How did you come up with the idea for Until Tomorrow, Mr. Marsworth, and for your character Reenie?


A: I had the idea for Reenie, a scrappy girl new to a small town, before I even knew Mr. Marsworth existed.  I didn’t know anything about her, but I pictured the small Midwestern town she lived in, and I was interested in seeing what would happen to her in that setting.


Once I discovered that the book was set in 1968, I began to pay attention to the things in the world that would be pressing in on Reenie’s reality.  The draft, the anti-war movement, the war in Vietnam, the assassinations of Dr. Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy, the civil rights movement, the women’s rights movement.  I knew all of that would influence characters in the book.   


Q: Why did you decide to write the book in the form of letters?


A: First, for the challenge.  I’m a professor in an MFA program where I teach a class on point of view, and as my students can attest, I’m a bit of a nerd about the possibilities of point of view and form. 


I fell in love with the epistolary novel as a child, and always had a desire to give it a whirl. I knew it would be difficult, and I like difficult things as a writer, but it may have been more difficult than I imagined. 


Q: What kind of research did you do to write this novel, and did you learn anything that especially surprised you?


A: I did extensive research, most of which isn’t directly on the pages of the book, but rather in the background informing events and characters’ choices. I read widely from that period, clocked a lot of hours at the Minnesota History Center reading old newspapers on microfiche. I read old magazines for period details. 


I learned an incredible amount in my research, but perhaps the most surprising and interesting research I did was on conscientious objectors, not just during the war in Vietnam, but also in World War I and World War II. 
I knew nothing about either of those subjects when I started the book, and it was painful to learn how conscientious objectors have been treated historically, especially in World War I. 


The great national contempt toward people who refused to fight ran through all the wars, and I gained tremendous admiration for the courage required of those who stand for peace, and gratitude for their many service contributions. 


Q: What do you hope readers take away from the story?


A: The book takes up a fair share of subjects, but as Mr. Marsworth says, our students study wars, but they rarely study peace. I would love to see people inspired to learn more about the little-known subject of conscientious objectors and their contributions in the wars, as well as the consequences they faced.  


In 1968, so many of the young men had no idea how to go about registering as a conscientious objector. As long as we have the draft--which young men are required to register for once they turn 18--and as long as wars continue, I think our young should understand what it means to be a conscientious objector both past and present.  


Q: What are you working on now?


A: I am working on revisions for an adult novel, tentatively titled V, that will be out in October 2019 with Rose Metal Press. That’s also a historical novel, set in the 1930s, and has involved an immense amount of research.

 
Q: Anything else we should know?


A: Until Tomorrow, Mr. Marsworth is a book for readers of all ages; I’m already hearing from both young people and adults. Just as Reenie discovers the power of inter-generational friendship, I intended it to be a book that can be shared across the generations.  I hope it is.  


--Interview with Deborah Kalb. This Q&A also appears on deborahkalbbooks.blogspot.com.

Friday
Apr132018

Q&A with poet Diana Khoi Nguyen

Diana Khoi Nguyen is the author of the new poetry collection Ghost Of. Her work has appeared in a variety of publications, including Poetry and American Poetry Review. She lives in Denver, and is a doctoral candidate in creative writing at the University of Denver.

Q: How did you come up with the title of your poetry collection, and what does it signify for you?

A: The title came from a friend. We’re actually not friends any more. The former friend had read a different version of the manuscript with completely different poems. There were many different kinds of shades or forms, and they recommended I title it “Ghost Of.”

I liked it because it felt incomplete, like the fragmentary identities that come to our mind. A couple of years later, I decided to write the poem “Ghost Of.” It was funny that the title gifted to me engendered a poem. It became central to how I thought of the book.

There are skeletons in the closet in any family, there are things you’ve done that haunt you. And beyond the family, it’s the Vietnam War. Everybody has ghosts.

Q: You’ve written about your late brother and the impact his absence has had on your work. How difficult was it to write these poems?

A: Some were not difficult. Actually I tend to play things down. The most difficult thing was working with the family pictures. For two years after his suicide, I couldn’t go near his room.

Everybody grieves in different ways. I wanted to be as far from physical reminders as possible. My father took to wearing his shoes, his hat. I felt numb for a long time. I felt guilty for feeling numb.

The pictures [that he had cut himself out of before his death] had power to them. He did it very calmly. He cut himself out with an Exacto knife and put the pictures back. Up until last Christmas, they were still there.

I was faced with the reminder of what he’d done, and knowing the artifacts he left behind had this power, I wanted to work against and do something with the images. I wanted to reach him and fill him in.

There were all these feelings that finally opened me up. That was the hard part. I finally grieved. It also felt so good to free that from me. The other poems were hard, but don’t deal with it directly.

The hardest thing is reading the poems out loud to people. It’s such a private thing. I worry—I’m not trying to perform grief. I know most people have lost somebody, and I bring them to that space of grief, but it speaks to people. It’s a form of connection I find valuable.

Q: You mentioned the Vietnam War—what’s been the impact and the legacy of the war on you and your family?

A: About four or five years ago my mother finally told me the story of how she came to this country. In third, or fifth, grade you’re supposed to talk about how your ancestors came to this country.

My father’s story was quite simple—on the day the war ended, he and his family went to the U.S. Embassy and got on a plane because his father worked for the Embassy.

My mother never wanted to talk about it. My parents are very forward-looking. They own multiple properties in California, they both got their master’s. I don’t know why she finally felt she could open up about it….

I started to become acutely aware of the nuances around me. I had experienced racial slurs. It came to a point that this was not okay. I wanted to push back, and I wanted to know who my parents were. I felt she had undiagnosed PTSD. The war ended when she was about 16, a formative time as a teenager. She finally shared a hard story.

It was really sad. She was from a large family, one of 11 children. They ran a local pharmacy in Saigon. My grandfather worked for the Embassy as well. They were told to bring your family to the Embassy, and my grandfather was really prideful and didn’t think the South could lose the war.

My eldest uncle was studying abroad. [My grandfather] took his youngest son, and left his daughters and wife behind to run the family business. The gender dynamic is important. My grandmother, mother, aunts were left behind.

The way this was told is that one aunt escorted her father and brother to the Embassy, and they realized it was a big mistake in not taking the whole family, but it was too late. I try to imagine my grandfather when he realized that.

My mother describes the insane chaos in Saigon, teenagers haphazardly driving tanks down the street. When the Communists took over she had to go to a reeducation camp.

They kept trying to escape. It was a big risk. My grandfather was sending back gold. You didn’t know who you could trust. They ended up on a rickety boat, and made it to a refugee camp in Malaysia. And they finally came over. There were so many moments when they were almost caught. They were living in constant terror.

When I learned the story, I had sympathy and empathy for my mother. I didn’t know how she could do everything she did here. It helped me understand. It made me think about the people who didn’t make it.

My dissertation project is to travel to the diaspora in this country [and others] and record how they tell the story, and examine how people assimilate. There’s always a [refugee crisis] happening.

Q: Over how long a time did you write these poems, and how did you decide on the order in which they would appear?

A: My brother died in 2014. The title was there before that. It happened really fast. I didn’t decide to write with the pictures until July 2016. I write in summer and winter. I wrote it in August and December 2016. The book was picked up in 2017.

The book just poured out of me once I figured out how to access that part of me. Ninety percent was written in 30 days. I plan, I prepare, and I don’t see anybody for 15 days.

I printed everything out, and then I knew I wanted three sections. I like the prime numbers, the imbalance. A beginning, a middle, and an end. There also were three siblings, now there are only two of us…

Q: Anything else we should know?

A: The cover makes me happy. Tennis is crucial to our family, and it’s an homage to this tradition in my family. In Asian households you don’t wear shoes in the house, and the sandals encapsulated our family culture.

--Interview with Deborah Kalb. This Q&A also appears on deborahkalbbooks.blogspot.com.

Friday
Nov102017

Q&A with John House

John House is the author of the new novel Uncommon Bond, which focuses on a U.S. Army doctor who becomes a POW during the Vietnam War. He also has written Rancor and Trail of Deceit. He served in the U.S. Army in Vietnam, and has practiced family medicine for 50 years. He lives on the southeast coast of Georgia.

Q: How did you come up with the idea for Uncommon Bond, and for your main characters?

A: The idea came from my knowledge of a flight surgeon in the 1st Cavalry Division who became a POW when the helicopter in which he was a passenger went down in South Vietnam.

He was captured by the Viet Cong before U.S. forces arrived. He was initially held by the VC and later transferred to the North Vietnamese who moved him north to Hanoi. That is the only part of the story that is factual history; the rest came from my imagination.

The character David Hanson, the American flight surgeon, was based on a composite of physicians, including me. I utilized my knowledge of the years of training in medical school, internship, and residency. Then came the draft, the indoctrination in the U.S. Army at Fort Sam Houston, Texas, and, for some, attendance at the aviation medicine school at Fort Rucker, Alabama.

I attended North Georgia College, the Senior Military College in Georgia, and was commissioned as second lieutenant upon graduation. After medical school and internship, I entered the U.S. Army and volunteered for Vietnam. Many physicians were drafted and were bitter over the interruption of their medical training.

I developed the character Major Duc Phan Thiet from my imagination. I used the name of my South Vietnamese interpreter who accompanied me on visits to the many villages around our base camp to provide medical care. It wasn’t hard to imagine that the medical people of the NVA worked under primitive conditions and great stress.

Q: What did you see as the right blend between the historical and fictional aspects of the story?

A: The historical facts involved: the Vietnam War, the presence of the 1st Cavalry Division, the actual units involved in the story, and, other than name changes, the characters are composites of many men who fought bravely in that war. I was the flight surgeon for 2/20th Aerial Rocket Artillery battalion, Cobra gunships, located in Phuoc Vinh, Tay Ninh, and Quan Loi.

The fictional aspect involved the relationship between Dr. Hanson and Major Duc. I wanted to show the brutality of war and the human relationships that can develop when former enemies learn they are similar in many ways.

Q: What do you hope readers take away from the book?

A: All members of the NVA weren’t monsters, just like all members of the U.S. Army weren’t saints. What I depicted in this story has happened in all wars when former combatants learn they have much in common. They all have loved ones they left at home, and hope to return to someday.

David Hanson, the American flight surgeon, suffered torture with physical and mental abuse until he met Major Duc Phan Thiet, the NVA surgeon. Then he discovered a greater pain, an emotional pain, when he refused to violate his oath of office and help the overworked surgeon care for the NVA and VC wounded.

When circumstances forced him to choose between his oath to his country and his Hippocratic Oath, the guilt he experienced from his choice was soothed by his relationship with Major Duc’s wife, a civilian nurse who had traveled over the Ho Chi Minh Trail from Hanoi through Laos and Cambodia to be with her husband.

Q: Who are some of your favorite authors?

A: My favorite author in my youth was Alistair MacLean, the author of The Guns of Navarone and many other titles. I have managed to collect all his works. Later in life, I’ve enjoyed James Patterson, Lee Childs, Stuart Woods, and Charles Martin. One of my favorite writers of historical fiction is David L. Robbins.

Q: What are you working on now?

A: Presently I’m working on three different manuscripts with most of my time spent on a story involving a Catholic priest and a prostitute brought together by fate when they both chose the same place and time on the Golden Gate Bridge to jump to their deaths.

Q: Anything else we should know?

A: I’m in my 50th year of practicing family medicine and I work in a clinic 4½ days a week. Despite my busy schedule, I always find time to write.

--Interview with Deborah Kalb. This interview also appears on deborahkalbbooks.blogspot.com.