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Learning through Doing

I call myself an author, and now that I have published two books, Stories from Potomac County and Vietnam: Stories from a War, I suppose it’s official. If asked, I write fictional short stories.

All of my stories have some truth in them. Maybe it’s observed truth, or something I heard rather than witnessed, or possibly the only germ of truth is a date or a location. My being lazy and having done nothing notable during my life, I don’t write novels or memoirs. I stick with short stories.

Our latest, Vietnam: Stories from a War, is a small collection of stories set in the years between 1964 and now. All these stories also have that element of truth, frequently someone else’s truth. They are fictional short stories that I’ve wanted to write for a long time.

I was in Vietnam in 1966-67 and in 1967-68. The first year was in 1st Logistics Command at Long Binh and the Michelin rubber plantation, the second year at Di-An base camp, headquarters of the 1st Infantry Division. Neither year was I a combat soldier; instead, I was one of the many support troops needed to keep the real warriors in the field. Any mention of combat in my stories was derived from events related to me by real soldiers.

Printed copies of Vietnam: Stories from a War are available through our website (https://authorchucksmith.wordpress.com/) and e-books are available from all the usual suspects. But… how do we market it and what will make anyone want to purchase yet-another book about a war that happened 50 years ago?

Unfortunately for me, these are hypothetical questions. I haven’t a clue. I’m the author, writer, scribbler. Fortunately, I have friends who seem to know how to market such things. Let’s hope we’ll sell a few copies, but in the meantime, learning about the process has been a real education.

Stay tuned. This story isn’t finished yet.

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By the Book

Vietnam Stories from a War Cover_Page_1

It has taken me nearly 50 years and you’ve had to read about it for more than a year, but it’s finally here. Vietnam: Stories from a War is available to purchase through Lulu.com. There is a link to Lulu right here. They’ll want your credit card but don’t worry, it’s a secure site. You can also purchase copies directly from me if you know where to find me.

This has been a labor — of love? Or maybe just a labor. My editor has actually read each and every story multiple times. That’s a heavy lift.

There are so many people who have in some way or another contributed to these stories.

My friend Tai Vajda, who left Saigon on the last day, has been invaluable. Our neighbor, retired Colonel Ron Stewart, kept me honest about the military terminology and sparked story ideas. There is a whole slew of people whose help has been needed and gratefully accepted, including Charlie Hebb for leaving his fatigue jacket.

And, of course, the characters in the stories are the main contributors. Arnie, Peter, Woodley, Joe C., etc. They each and all brought something to my effort.

So, I’ve banged on about this collection long enough to drive pretty much everyone within earshot (and e-mail shot?) completely ‘round the bend. But it has borne fruit, well, some kind of fruit, and it is ready for purchase at last.

The book looks and feels good. Lots of thought and effort went into the cover and the illustrations. Claire and I labored mightily with content and layout. This is a book you’ll be proud to own or to give Uncle Mortie, who was in Korea, your brother-in-law veteran of Desert Storm, your cousin’s wife who served in Afghanistan, and any old Vietnam vet in your life.

I’ve warned you before that these are not warm and fuzzy stories and that the language and situations can be crude and rough. So, don’t feel that you have to read it. Do feel that you have to buy it. Otherwise, what’s the point?

Thanks.

Traditions Old and New

Our family does not observe or adhere to some American Thanksgiving traditions. I am thankful for these neglected traditions, which seems appropriate for this holiday of thanks.

We do not have knock-down-drag-out fights over politics. While we have at least two disparate views (maybe more, if you consider the extreme end as a separate view) on national and state politics, we avoid talking about them at family get-togethers. Just leave your opinions where you last used them as there is no need to spoil a good lunch.

We also do not have to have a television in the next room blaring about the football game of the day. While someone will invariably turn on a game and share the score with whoever is interested, those of us who don’t care do not have to join in. Personally, I have no interest in whether the Washington Natives are beating the Houston Horsemen or if Virginia Stenographical is being flailed by the Boseman Brewers. Those who do, can, and the rest of us are left ignorant and in peace.

So, by taking sports and politics out of the mix we already upped our chances for a nice meal and a peaceful gathering. And this year, we start a new tradition.

I’ve been a member of my wife Sharon’s family for nearly thirty years and Thanksgiving has been hosted by Sharon’s aunt every year. I’m told that those thirty years of tradition are really closer to fifty years. No matter the time span, it has been the tradition, up until now.

This year Sharon has convinced her aunt to let us host the gathering and cook the meal. Sharon has always been a great cook, a dab hand in the kitchen. She’s creative and inventive and this year’s Thanksgiving will be another culinary masterpiece. We, Sharon and I, are not meat-eaters but will abide by the law of the land. There will be turkey as specified in the U.S. Constitution and in the Bill of Rights, along with dressing and those sweet potatoes with caramelized brown sugar and (for reasons known only by God) marshmallow topping. I’m certain that cranberries of some description will make an appearance. But there will be changes, additions, surprises. It’s the beginning of a new tradition.

So, while some will be having the blaring television for background noise to accompany the full-on firefight over politics, we will be following the letter-of-the-law along with a new twist or two, creating our own tradition.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Doing Our Jobs

Fergus, our mostly Irish terrier, and I are getting old. We try to avoid weather extremes, being too far away from a sofa, and anything more taxing than neighborhood walks, muttering curses, or barking. I specialize in muttering so he takes most of the barking. Each of us feel that the other is quite good at his specific task.

My vertigo, which had been in abeyance for several years, recently returned for a visit and a catch-up. I can’t claim that I welcomed it back. It is disconcerting and inconvenient. Since it returned, I’ve done lots of muttering while Fergus has stuck with his usual amount of barking.

Though not his choice, we have done a lot less walking than before this recent round of vertigo. Not having a good orientation about the surface under or the horizon in front makes walking challenging for an old guy. I’m going to physical therapy and the condition is improving so we’re still muttering and barking, staying close to the sofa, and trying to lengthen our walks.

Another longtime acquaintance is malaria, a souvenir that I picked up while on my first trip to southeast Asia. Many of the young Americans who took advantage of that “travel opportunity” brought back various mementos of their time in-country, few of them joyous. In the grand scheme, my occasional bout of symptomatic malaria seems rather benign.

Malaria, like vertigo, is something of which I must always be aware. The question form for donating blood asks about malaria, the health-care plan inquires yearly, the primary care physician wants to know, and there’s the very infrequent bout of actual symptomatic malaria. I just have to remember that it is there and that it can put me down for a while when it rears its ugly head.

I’m walking better and a bit longer, and this year’s crop of mosquitoes have quieted down as the evenings have grown cooler, so overall, we dodged another one.

We’ll probably see you somewhere on our travels. After we’ve waved and gone past, you may hear a little muttering and a fair amount of barking in our wake. We’re just doing our jobs.

 

Spare Tires

Unless you’re still driving your 1974 Crown Victoria, you know that today’s cars don’t have real spare tires; not the proper-sized rim with a proper-sized tire mounted on it, hiding in the trunk of your car. That would be too much weight, too much space, too much cost.

However, if you are not driving a 2010 Mini Cooper S model, there is probably a doughnut spare in your trunk. These doughnuts come with admonishments to Not Drive Far, Not Drive Fast, and other such warnings, but the spare can get you somewhere to affect the requisite repairs.

I slipped a clue in to the previous paragraph: if you are not driving a 2010 Mini Cooper S model. I do drive that Mini Cooper and really like the car. It gets decent gas mileage, holds just enough luggage for two people, is very comfortable, and has plenty of speed to collect all the traffic tickets you would like.

I don’t have those midlife or old guy dreams of a Corvette, a Harley-Davidson (had one of those and enjoyed it), any type of a boat, or other impractical and expensive toy. So, the Mini Cooper S model is a perfect fit for me…

Except there is no spare tire. There’s not even the stupid little doughnut with all the warnings on it. Nothing, Nada, Zip. This car came with ‘run flat’ tires. And they indeed do run flat. We recently had a sudden loss of air pressure (what us old guys call a flat tire) when 40 miles from home. We drove home without damage to the car or the rim. That was good.

However, these ‘run flats’ are both scarce and expensive. To obtain the correct replacement, I had to remove the wheel, borrow a vehicle, drive a 120-mile round-trip, and shell out a healthy amount of money before returning home to complete the replacement.

The new tire is now fitted back onto the car, the computer has been reset to know that all the air pressures are back to corrected and until another small catastrophe occurs, life is good again.

Life is filled with compromises. The highway may be filled with sharp objects. Compromise is better for your tires than are sharp objects. Even ‘run flats’ have their limits.