One of the most vital tools in an author’s toolbox is networking. It helps us learn about topics we know little or nothing about, and the people we connect with take us places we could otherwise never go.
When writing Memories of Jake, I came to a point where all my research made me realize I needed a personal voice to help me better understand the Vietnam War; a “guide” to show me more about the military and how it worked. I had not intended to write a book about the conflict, yet when I met my characters, Andrew and Jake Cameron, it was inevitable they would both fight in that conflict.
The Vietnam War. Enormous, sprawling, confusing, conflicting. A war that wasn’t a war … at least it was never declared a war. A war this country is still struggling with. A war in which our warriors fought valiantly, in which far too many young American lives were lost; and those who came home returned to a country ripped apart by the war no one seemed to understand.
It was my great good fortune to come into contact by virtue of a mutual friend with retired U.S. Army Lt. Col. Charles J. Vincent, Corps of Engineers, who served a tour in Vietnam with Special Forces. Col. Vincent had previously been a member of the Marine Corps and served in the Korean War as well. So it might be said he was a warrior twice over.
Col. Chuck addressed my dozens of questions patiently and thoroughly, contacting other veterans when he felt it would be helpful. He also read through the passages on the war making corrections and suggestions. And when I was writing Man with No Yesterdays he repeated this process, but additionally gave me a scenario for Jake’s last mission in which he suffered the traumatic brain injury which changed his life so drastically.
Col. Vincent’s life would make a good book in itself, and I would hope he’s writing his memoirs. Originally from New Jersey, he attended and eventually graduated from Drexel University in Philadelphia. That’s where the networking I spoke of took place; a former voice student is now a vice-president at Drexel, and when I mentioned to her mother I needed a de facto “military consultant” for Memories of Jake, she contacted her daughter who put me in touch with Col. Vincent. He now lives in Mississippi but frequently visits Philadelphia for various events at Drexel, and I had the chance to speak with this often-decorated warrior personally while writing my first Cameron brothers’ book.
In a recent interview I commented on the value of reaching out to people in exactly this way … finding an expert who is generously willing to share their expertise with an author. My comment was that each book I’ve written has been a journey, and I’ve had some exceptional tour guides on these journeys. The two books about the Cameron brothers were a long and difficult journey, and I am forever grateful to Col. Chuck for being my guide.
On March 29, National Vietnam Veterans Day will be observed for only the second time, since the bill declaring the day was signed on the eve of the holiday in 2017. I am honored to be part of a local observance of this day being held on March 25, a multi-arts celebration—art, literature, and music—at the Pocono Cinema and Cultural Center in East Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania. At our observation we are honoring all our military veterans. An art exhibit by six local veterans will be on display. Music, including songs from the Vietnam War Era, will be performed. Staged readings from my Cameron brothers’ books will be part of the program. No admission charge. My heartfelt thanks to all who served and continue to serve this nation.