The first Wednesday of the month is IWSG (Insecure Writer’s Support Group) started by Alex Cavanaugh. Please visit the IWSG site, and this month’s co-hosts: C. Lee McKenzie, Rachel Pattison, Elizabeth Seckman, Stephanie Farris, Lori MacLaughlin, and Elsie Amata
I am always insecure when I encounter a gifted writer. Today I am happy to interview him: Terry Wilson.
I am pleased and honored today to present my interview with Terry Wilson, a man of wide experience, with a sense of humor, a knack with a pen, and an understanding of conflict, courage and resolution. I ‘met’ him through the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award fora, and always enjoyed his contributions.
I learned that Terry had written a book (at that time) set during the Kent State Massacre: The Blanket Hill Insurgency. Over the next several years he produced another also set during the Vietnam war but looking back to another war: Breaking Liberator’s Shackles . The Vietnam war was the event, as it was going on, and then afterward, that seemed to hang over my generation and form my society afterward.
Terry’s third book, Tarnished Valor, touches upon the Vietnam one more time.
I am happy to present my interview with Terry. Enjoy the excerpts from his books. I have inserted geotargeted links to his books (they will take you to whatever Amazon site you use) as well as links to my reviews. I hope you enjoy them as much as I have.
You have done a great many things in your life -combat veteran, writer, devoted husband (you’ve done a lot of other things: what are they?) Which of them did you find the most challenging?
Because of my respect for 58,272 men and women who died in Vietnam, I must make a clarification related to this question. I served, but I did not see combat.
I’m no different from any other human being who has lived for many decades. As a child and teenager I was lucky enough to grow up in a family where my faith was nurtured and ethics were stressed. My father was a high school coach who taught me the rewards of hard work. I participated on the football, wrestling and track teams. I held my high school’s record for the 880 yard run. My dreams were to either become a pastor or an architect.
Following my time in the Army, I became an architect. Millions of children have been educated in school buildings I had a hand in the design and construction of. I’ve served on the boards of a number of non-profits, and I enjoy fishing and golf.
As with everyone, I’ve been faced with problems. In the early Nineties a striving architectural practice I built was wiped out by a default judgment from the court when my attorney failed to respond to motions for sanction brought against me associated with what was a nuisance law suit. All of my resources were wiped out, and this led to a divorce from my first wife of twenty years.
Being able to hang on to my belief in the Lord and conduct my life with ethical principles has been the greatest challenge I’ve faced. When things go bad, it’s hard to not want to seek revenge, but I have been able to move on. These challenges have helped me renew who I am.
You have written three books that touch upon hope, despair, renewal high hopes, faith and love. What inspired you to write them?
I would add humor, ego, self-doubt, conflict, loss and ethics to the descriptors of this question. Humans are forced to deal with all of these on a daily basis. I strive to portray every character as a complete person. None are perfect, and none are all bad. I want the reader to feel empathy for each…. even for an antagonist.
Now I’ll address the inspiration for my novels. Finishing my enlistment in the Army in 1970 I returned to Kent State to continue my education. The University was a different environment from the one I left three years prior. The culture changed. The once patriotic campus, steep in tradition, exploded into a battleground of unrest and revolution. I witnessed the tragedy of the shootings that rocked our nation and the world. The change and clash of cultures that occurred at Kent and elsewhere were in need of telling, and to tell the story I wrote The Blanket Hill Insurgency.
The following excerpt is from the 41st Chapter of The Blanket Hill Insurgency:
Six were seated around a large round table in Ray’s Place. Because of his shortly cropped hair, Jim stood out from others in the campus town tavern even though he wore civilian clothing. Richard, Linda, Jed, Ruth and Ann all agreed to spend the evening before the start of classes for the Winter Quarter having pizza and beer. It was something Jim had missed doing, in a campus tavern, since he graduated from Ohio State. Having just arrived, the conversation was mostly light and dominated by the upcoming weddings. Ruth was intrigued by the conversation, and Jed acted as though he didn’t notice her interest to everyone’s amusement.
It was revealed to Jim that Linda and Richard had become god parents. This led to Ann starting a more serious conversation.
“Their godson has parents who protest against Vietnam,” Ann said abruptly. “I can’t believe the lying they do to make our being there sound wrong.”
“Like what?” Jim asked.
“Kelly, the kid’s mother, said we intentionally destroy farmer’s crops. She said it has forced whole communities to move to city slums so they won’t starve.”
Jim reached out and grabbed Ann’s hand and said, “She’s not telling a lie. We are, but there’s a legitimate reason for it.”
Ann was shocked as she asked, “What?”
“The country has political divides, and there are large rural areas sympathetic to the North Vietnamese government. Many living in these farming communities are farmers during the day and grab weapons at night… sometimes during the day. They are the Viet Cong.”
Jim had everyone’s attention.
“The Cong have killed and wounded thousands of our soldiers. We target these communities by dropping a chemical on their fields. It’s called Agent Orange. It’s very effective in killing the crops, and without food, the people, rather than starving, move from the area, mostly to cities where slums have sprung up. I feel sorry for the people, but it has probably saved thousands of American lives.”
“There’s no other way?” Ann asked.
“Short of our leaving, I doubt it.”
“So we should leave?” Linda asked.
“No Linda… that’s not what I’m saying. A majority… most of the South Vietnamese people support their government. If we left, they could not stop the country from falling to communist rule. I agree with our being there, and I would hate to see us pull out before we complete our mission. Three men in my platoon died for the cause. I’d hate to see their sacrifice go in vain.”
“Couldn’t we just find the farmers that are the Viet Cong?” Ruth asked. “Why should whole communities have to suffer?”
“Most of what my platoon did was called search and destroy missions. Our job was to find the Cong. We’d search hamlets and farms looking for signs of enemy activity. We’d look for stashes of weapons and ammunition along with tunnels they would conceal themselves in. We were successful in identifying some of the Cong, but we never knew if the next person, be it a man, woman or child would be the next to aim a weapon at one of us.”
“Child?” Ruth exclaimed.
“Yes. Hundreds… maybe thousands of children fight with the Cong. Following the firefight where two of my men died, we surveyed the Cong that were killed. Along with twelve men there were three children probably between ten and twelve years old. All were clutching A.K. Forty-Sevens.”
At that moment one of two coeds who were seated at an adjacent table walked over to Jim and slapped him across his face as she screamed, “BABY KILLER!”
Jim simply looked at her and did not say a word as the bartender raced to the table from behind the bar.
“What’s going on here?” he barked at the coed.
“He’s a baby killer.”
Looking at Jim the bartender asked, “What’s she talking about?”
“She must have overheard part of our conversation. I’ve just returned from Vietnam, and I was…”
“You don’t need to say another word,” the bartender said to Jim. He addressed the coed. “You… young lady… get out of this bar. I don’t need your kind of trouble in here.”
The coed and her friend left without arguing.
The bartender shook Jim’s hand and announced, “Welcome home. This table’s tab is on me.” He lowered his voice and continued, “My brother was killed in the Iron Triangle.”
Jim stood up and embraced the bartender, “I’m so sorry for your loss.”
As a child my hero was my Uncle Kirby. During the Second World War, he endured the horror as a prisoner of war held by the Japanese. He would never talk about his ordeal, but when I was able to watch an old Japanese Army Newsreel showing the capture of him and his bomber crew, I decided to write Breaking Liberator’s Shackles. The novel is based on his experience, but the bomber crew is fictional characters…. after all, my uncle never talked to me about it.
My excitement was intense. I couldn’t wait to see Doug. Since he was inducted into the army, this was only the second time he came home. He had a two week leave the past Christmas holiday.
The drive into and through Cleveland to Hopkins Airport seemed to take forever. Traffic was very slow moving because of road congestion caused by a rare Saturday Cleveland Browns’ game. This was actually my first trip to the airport. At Christmas Doug traveled by bus, and when we dropped him off the day he entered the army, he left on a train from the Terminal Tower station. We could see the tower dominating the skyline as we crept along on the crowded inner-belt of the expressway.
Eventually we arrived about a half hour before the scheduled arrival of Doug’s plane. Emma and I found our way to a gate on Concourse A where Doug’s plane was scheduled to unload. We waited, with a handful of others for a United flight from Washington National Airport. I was surprised that what was referred to as a gate was a second story waiting area with regular doors identified with gate numbers. Between these doors were large expanses of windows through which we could watch the commercial jets as they arrived or departed. It amazed me how aviation had advanced since my days in the Army Air Corp. I watched as a jet taxied to an adjacent gate.
I pointed to the jet as I addressed Emma, “Look at that.”
We watched a motorized enclosed and moveable telescoping ramp that was connected to the building being moved into position at the door of the jet. The passengers were provided direct access into the terminal while protected from outdoor weather conditions.
About a minute later a much smaller aircraft pulled up outside of the window. Rather than a jet, it had a single motor and propeller mounted on each wing. My mind screamed at me. Except for the porthole windows to the passenger cabin, it was the same type of aircraft I flew on during my return trip to the States following my imprisonment. The plane was a DC-3, a commercial version of a C-47 Skytrain, a military cargo plane.
Rather than connecting with a movable walkway, a set of steps was wheeled into position at the cabin door of the plane. I watched in anticipation as passengers exited and descended the stairs to the pavement and walked toward the terminal. It wasn’t long before Doug appeared.
“There he is,” Emma stated. Tears of emotion were trickling from her eyes.
“That’s our son,” I replied. “He really looks sharp.” It wasn’t an exaggeration. The way he wore his uniform was a sight to see. The khaki uniform had what appeared to be razor sharp creases. The pants were neatly tucked into the tops of highly polished black leather boots. Sergeant stripes dominated the short sleeves of his shirt, and a deep-green beret crowned the top of his erectly held head.
Doug disappeared from sight as he entered a door to the terminal building, and I noticed those who exited the plane in front of him started to enter the waiting area through the door labeled with the gate number. I grabbed Emma’s hand and led her toward the door. I felt lumps in my throat, and I was filled with pride when Doug appeared. Emma raced to him and engulfed him with a passionate hug. The smile on Doug’s face was electrifying, and then he leaned over and kissed his mother’s forehead. I wished I would have brought a camera with me to catch the moment.
Once Emma released her hold on our son, Doug extended his hand to me and stated, “Great to see you sir.”
I accepted his firm handshake and responded, “Great to have you home Doug.” I then took my other arm and wrapped it around him in a hug. “You don’t need to call me sir. Dad is fine.”
Doug laughed and stated, “It’s my military training.” He quickly looked around and asked, “Where’s Mary?”
Emma answered, “Someone had to milk the cows. She wanted to be here.” Emma then realized Doug left the plane without any baggage. “Don’t you have luggage?”
“We’ll have to pick it up at the baggage claim area. I was told it will probably be about a half an hour before it’s there.”
“So…” Emma stated. “We have some time to kill,”
“Let’s catch a beer,” I offered. “I saw a small tavern along the concourse on our way in.”
“Sounds like a great plan,” Doug stated.
(My review is HERE.)
One of the ugliest periods for my generation was the War in Vietnam. The ugliness continued for veterans who returned, and it continues to this day for many. Tarnished Valor is my tribute to all of the men and women who served during Vietnam. It focuses on the aftermath of the War that still haunts many veterans years following return to “The World”.
I have just arrived in Philadelphia at the Thirtieth Street Station. Following the hassle of getting myself off the train and to the taxi stand in front of the terminal… had to negotiate barriers with my chair… I feel the chill of an early morning wind. I am cold. My field jacket doesn’t have a liner, and I left my sweater with Judy.
I roll my chair to a taxi, and I can see the driver look at me, but he doesn’t seem interested in giving me a ride. I tap on the passenger side window, and he takes his time lowering it.
“I need a ride to Carver High School.”
He stares at me. I have the impression he’s about to refuse me a ride.
“Do you have twenty dollars?”
“You’ll need to pay me up front.”
I take a twenty-dollar bill from my wallet and hand it to his outstretched hand. He gets out of the car and helps me into the back seat and hands me my crutch. He folds my wheelchair and places it in the trunk along with my knapsack. Once he returns to the car and pulls away, he asks, “You’re sure you want to go to Carver this early in the morning? I doubt if it’s open yet.”
“I do.” I decide to take a verbal jab at him for his rudeness. “This is my first time in Philly. In almost every other city taxi drivers collect after reaching the destination. It’s different here.”
“Can’t be too safe. I’ve been burned once by a vagrant, and I’m not about to be burnt again.”
“I’m not a vagrant.”
“Can’t tell that by looking at you.”
I rub my face with the palm of my hand and realize I need a shave. I’m wearing an old Army field jacket and trousers with a dirty knee caused by yesterday’s crawl up the Capitol steps. I’m minus a leg, and I realize I probably look like a vagrant. I haven’t had a shower, so I probably smell like one too.
“Yeah… I probably look pretty bad. I’m from Cleveland and flew to D.C. yesterday. I planned on being back home by now, but my plans changed. I didn’t pack a change of clothing, a razor or toothbrush.”
“Why were you in our nation’s Capital?”
“I joined a large number of other disabled to crawl up the Capitol steps. It was a protest to encourage Congress to pass the Americans with Disabilities Act.”
“I saw that on the news last night. They showed this little girl…”
“Jennifer Keelan. She was amazing. I crawled up just behind her.”
“Watching her choked me up.”
“She’s an amazing kid.”
The traffic is fairly heavy, and I’m amazed to see the flow of vehicles blocked by trucks making deliveries by double parking on the street as they are unloaded. Back in Ohio this would never happen without tickets being issued by the police. What’s even more interesting is how traffic will get by these temporary roadblocks. Cars, where they can, quickly drive over the curbs onto the sidewalks to pass.
We pass areas with large numbers of people wrapped in blankets sleeping on sidewalks. This leads me to comment.
“I’ve never seen so many homeless. Is it like this during the really cold nights?”
“Always. You’ll notice some of them are lying where steam is rising from under them. They have the warmest location on top of manhole covers to the city’s steam pipe tunnels.”
After we pass Temple University, we turn off of a wide boulevard onto a side street, and the driver comments, “Carver High School is just a few blocks ahead. Why are you going there?”
“I’m looking for a good friend I served with in Vietnam. I thought he was killed. After I finished the crawl up the Capitol steps, I visited the Vietnam Memorial. His name wasn’t on the Wall.”
The driver is silent until he stops the car in front of Carver High School. “We’re here. I hope you find your friend.”
“I do too.”
What started you writing at all?
When I was a high school student, a fantastic English Teacher dropped a bombshell on my class. We were all assigned two novels to read and write a literary comparison. The novels assigned to me were Of Human Bondage by William Somerset Maugham and The Citadel by A.J. Cronin. Following my initial alarm, I read and (to my surprise) thoroughly enjoyed both books. I was awed by the ability of each author to hold my attention and rip at my emotions, so the writing of the literary comparison became a labor of love. I also wondered, “Could I also write a story as potent as these?”
Fast forward a few years. I was in the Army, and during my free time I found that always getting drunk with the guys was not for me. I started to write, and by the time I completed my military service the first draft of a novel was also complete. The novel dealt with the struggles of a young man in college (at a fictional university) and his time in the Army during the Sixties. Following my service I returned to Kent State University to continue my education. I was there to witness the horror when National Guardsmen fired into a mass of students…. killing four. At that time I knew my novel would need to be reworked incorporating Kent State.
The novel remained dormant until I retired from the practice of Architecture. I did conduct research for it during those years. I needed to understand the cultural changes and events at Kent during the three years I was away in the Army. They were dramatic. I retired, dusted off my old manuscript and wrote. One could say it took me forty-seven years to write The Blanket Hill Insurgency.
I know that a storyteller tells a story, and you do. But what is the ‘core’ or ‘kernel’ of your story? Aside from keeping your readers engaged, what do you hope to convey to them?
I describe my writing as, “Novels of significant cultural and historic events wearing a costume of fiction.” The events I write about need to be remembered. They are part of the fabric of who we are and the changes in our cultural norms. I have noticed many young people today have little understanding of the world their parents and grandparents grew up in. What were highly offensive words have become common in conversations (such as “bitch”). It is my sincere hope the stories I write may help younger generations appreciate where we were and those who lived it to remember a time that has been lost.
When you write, do you put yourself in your work, somewhere? Perhaps in disguise? (If so, I’d like an illustration of the character that really is you.) Do you express your hopes and dreams?
Many of the experiences I have had are molded, following modifications, into scenes depicted in my novels. As an author I find this essential to create stories capable of evoking emotional conditions a reader will believe. I also, not often, have inserted myself into the work. In The Blanket Hill Insurgency a collegiate cross country race provides a back-drop to a scene. I actually was one of the runners in the race. In Tarnished Valor a scene takes place in a building where I operated an architectural practice. My name is mentioned in a short dialog between two of the characters.
I asked you to send me excerpts of each of your books, which I post now. -Which one do you, yourself, like best? Why?
This question is like asking, “Which of your children do you love the most?” While writing a novel, I become so engrossed and attached with the work. They all are very much a part of me. Having said that, my most recent novel, Tarnished Valor, I consider the most important. It focuses on a tribute to a generation of veterans who gave their all and returned home to face ridicule and problems that haunt many until this day. It’s a story that had to be told.
If you had something to tell someone who is considering reading your stories or writing, or just facing life, what would it be?
I believe my novels are a good read for any age. They honestly depict who we were by placing characters into historically accurate times and events from our not so distant past. They cross a multitude of genres including historical, romance, tragedy, faith-based and military/war. Offensive language is only used where necessary to properly depict an action, and words selected are never based on political correctness (it’s the way it was).
Related to life, due to medical conditions I may be nearing the end of mine. If I make it, I’ll be seventy my next birthday, and looking back I know life is short. We are on this earth only once, but while we are here, we affect the lives of many. Live life to the fullest, but live with integrity.
I’m often asked about the photo on the back of my books. The dog with me is Rascal, and he’s a bit older now. When I write, Rascal is always on the floor at my feet. When I finish writing a section, I’ll read it aloud. Rascal is attentive. His tail wags as I read happy passages, and he whimpers as I read emotionally sad passages. He probably reacts to the tone of my voice, but Rascal has become my first critic.