Saturday, December 17, 2011


I did not want to write about the Vietnam War.

At first I thought it was because of my impatience about the book making process and how adding in another layer meant a mountain of research on a new topic. I'd done whole mountain ranges of research on several topics for this book already and was not eager to take on another.

I wanted to get on with it.  My attitude was "just give me a contract already.  Let's get this book published!"

But my editor, in her superior wisdom, knew my story wasn't contract worthy. Indeed one of my viewpoint characters was missing a soul.  Or at least, I had yet to find her soul. Which meant I had to dig deeper.  Which I did. Which led me to Vietnam.

Which is breaking my heart. Which should have been broken a long time ago over this very topic. I lived through the 60's and 70's. I remember.

I have family and friends who were up-close-and-personal with the Vietnam War. One friend died there. Another is still affected by post war trauma.  Several peacemaking family members chose to live in Vietnam during the war and to offer moral support without taking sides. In addition, thousands of war refugees (and their descendants) live in my community today.

I've been close enough to the topic to care but I haven't had the courage. But ya' know what?  Writing forces me to look things in the eye that were too horrifying to acknowledge before.

Eventually I accept my calling. Which is what I'm doing now.  It's why I go to sleep watching documentaries of the war and wake up and play them all over again. It's why I'm reading refugee and prisoner-of-war stories and why I'll call my friend who suffers with PTSD and ask to hear his story.   

I will research this war and find the best way to share my character's soul.  I'll allow myself to feel a smidgen of the pain that others have endured. I have no idea where this will lead me but I suspect it is more than just to writing.

Whether my work-in-progress lands a contract or not, perhaps it will at least make me into a more compassionate human being.

The following homage by Colonel Michael Davis O'Donnell reminds me to care about all the victims of war:

"If you are able, save for them a place inside of you and one backward glance when you are leaving, for the places they can no longer go.

Be not ashamed to say you loved them, though you may or may not always have. Take what they have left and what they have taught you with their dying and keep it with your own.

And in that time when men decide and feel safe to call the war insane, take one moment to embrace those gentle heroes you left behind." (Major Michael Davis O'Donnell - South Vietnam)


  1. Thanks, Joyce. So much blogging about things I need to hear this week. The pain is there--it's in the world--and maybe we do need to write about it. Hugs.

  2. Hey Becky - Thanks for dropping by. I do hope the various bloggers are helping you with your writing challenges! And with whatever else feels relevant as you read.

  3. Here's to an author willing to find the courage to face her calling. I know you will do it beautifully, in spite of the pain and sadness you'll encounter on your research journey. Blessings.

  4. You can do it Joyce. I believe in you. This will touch readers' hearts. It will be well worth the research and opening yourself to its message. A favorite line from "The Patriot" movie: Stay the course.

  5. <your post brought tears to my eyes. I thought of you day before yesterday when we talked with lor´s young friend who lives in barcelona. when we asked him what the biggest spanish export is, he said it was guns. i don´t know if that is true. but the fact that was his first answer said a lot. i guess you still have some work to do on this book, but it will be so amazing when it is done. i´m going to tell uncle bob how hard you are working on this book. maybe then he will stop nagging me about when my book will be done.

  6. Thanks Amy, Linda, and Carol for your belief in me! I do believe the story will be better for having faced the painful realities.

    And of course my pain (research, writing, rewriting, and hearing other people's painful stories) is NOTHING compared to those who have been traumatized by war.

    The least I can do is validate their life experiences by listening!

  7. It's tough to face the pain inside ourselves and transfer it to our characters. I recall listening to a talk by Katherine Paterson about Bridge to Terebithia. She couldn't write the ending because of Leslie's death, and then (and it may have been her editor) told her that it was her own death she couldn't face. And, of course, she did write the ending, and the rest is history. You will find the right words, too.

  8. Katherine Paterson - my role model.


  9. I can so relate to this post, especially this line:
    "Writing forces me to look things in the eye that were too horrifying to acknowledge before."
    Sometimes the things that are the hardest are the things that touch others the most. Surely true of Terabithia.
    Thanks for sharing this.

  10. I appreciate your feedback, Augusta. There are so many reasons why we writers write but surely we are all learning about ourselves along the way.

  11. Thanks So much Joyce! I know first hand of the difficulty and delicacy of war topics. As I am nearing completion of my mother's story, there are things I must write even though I cry as I write them in order to be as Colonel O'Donnell's quote "...saving a place inside of you...for the places they can no longer go." I know you will be able to tell your story and it will do the same!

  12. Thanks Kathy for the encouragement. I know you are writing about a deeply painful topic! And that story needs to be told from the inside.

    Let me know if you want me to read it sometime.