Tag Archives: Vietnam

When the Cold War Collides with Love: Interview with Author Steve Gladish

Sometimes, we arrive at the idea for a novel and promptly write it, moving from concept to cover in a short period of time. In many ways, that’s the hook of independent publishing.

That has not been Stephen Gladish’s experience. The Tucson, Arizona-based author of the forthcoming Tracking the Skies for Lacy (On Sale August 28) has spent the past decade working with a central premise: his adventures with the Air Force’s Sixth Weather Squadron, and how romance, faith and harrowing missions seemed to mix.

Like many authors, Gladish struggled with deciding when to finish and release his work. First, there is a lot of story; Tracking the Skies for Lacy is the first of three forthcoming romantic military adventures in the series. Second, his protagonists weave in and out of all three books, creating a delicious read to mind and heart that takes awhile to present as seamlessly as Gladish does.

Most of all, Gladish wanted to get it right. Now, the retired English and writing instructor in the Arizona Department of Corrections system brings out the beautiful, thrilling and ultimately redeeming story of Luke and Lacy, and their windy road to romance. He also brings us the lushness of Polynesia, harrowing thrills of chasing tornadoes, a critical return to Vietnam, and more, in typical Gladish fashion — large, sweeping, ringing with imagery, and constantly working the heart strings.

Tracking the Skies for Lacy is coming out in time for us to reload on our summer reads. Perfect timing, as the enduring warmth of this story feels like a day at the beach — but one that makes us wiser when we finish reading.

Word Journeys: You went through a few ideas before settling on the final title, Tracking the Skies for Lacy. Could you elaborate?

Stephen B. Gladish: The military weather focus of Tracking the Skies for Lacy began long ago with my tours of Tornado Alley. Then I extended the scope to chasing tornadoes, monitoring nuclear detonations, flying helicopter rescue and attack missions, and making white water rescues. The unique romance of Luke and Lacy spanned all the new adventures and held them together. And each one of these chapters involved tracking the skies.

WJ: Where did the central idea for the book come from?

Tracking the Skies for Lacy author Steve Gladish

SG: In addition to my childhood inspirations, and my lifetime interest in weather, I wanted to call attention to the importance of weather in everybody’s lives. I served in the USAF 6th Weather Squadron (Mobile) and the Severe Weather Warning Command in the early Sixties. I want to take the reader through the sheer adventure of Luke growing into a man, just as the military venue designs it. From a weather warrior, he graduates to become an officer and a pilot, one of the few who came home from the Vietnam War psychologically unscathed.

WJ: Tell us briefly about Tracking the Skies for Lacy.

SG: Tracking the Skies for Lacy begins with a cloudy sky, metaphorically speaking. Lacy’s wealthy family moves to Luke’s hometown and they attend the same school, Park Avenue Prep. Lacy is beyond beautiful, and Luke, a handsome star student and athlete, is drawn to her. At age fifteen, Luke is confronted by class structure for the first time: Lacy is told by Mr. De’Luca, her father, not to have anything to do with any boy beneath her status. Thanks to Mrs. De’Luca’s compassion for Lacy, Luke and Lacy have years of hidden closeness.

Lacy goes on to Stanford University, while Luke follows a family tradition and joins the Air Force. Running a military gauntlet of tornadoes, nuclear atmospheric explosions, wartime helicopter actions, and white-water rafting dangers, Luke follows his quest to bring back the love of his youth. Lacy graduates from Stanford University, then shocks everybody by joining the Peace Corps. A wealthy girl, she lives in huts, rides on rundown old buses. A future with Luke? Luke could be swallowed up by Lacy’s family and disappear. Lacy has to give up a total life style to turn the corner.

Two years later, Luke comes home for a two-week R & R respite from the Pacific Nuclear Proving Ground/Marshall Islands. He had fallen in love with the beautiful and educated Talia Su’sulu, a Samoan teacher. He knew there would be no cross-class clash. But then there was Lacy…

Author Steve Gladish in the South Pacific – the setting for much of ‘Tracking the Skies for Lacy’

WJ: The dance between Luke and Lacy becomes the romantic tension that holds throughout the novel.

SG: Our hero falls in love with Lacy, grows up, and becomes a Sixth Weather storm chaser. He and his military sidekicks locate and record deadly tornadoes while saving numerous people in the nation’s Tornado Alley, and then they are island castaways recording nuclear detonations all over the South Pacific. Lacy is miles ahead of Luke. He plunges into college and intensive helicopter training. Now as an officer, Luke and his buddies hunt down the deadly enemy in Vietnam, and then attend a reunion where Luke finally connects with Lacy. But the story is not complete until he and his buddies coordinate a stunning rescue as white-water guides on “The River of No Return.”

WJ: Could you talk about how you transferred your experience into the characters of Luke and Chance?

SG: Sure! It was primarily in the military part of the story. Luke and Chance had advanced training in upper atmosphere weather, as I did. We worked alone and isolated and became close for that reason as well, a camaraderie and brotherhood you see in the book. I feel we need a lot more of that today. In Sixth Weather Squadron, we repeatedly surveyed the drastic damages of tornadoes. Saving lives was a key part of our mission. Across the world, pilots and aircrews depended on our weather reports and forecasts. We had mission and meaning in our lives. We got hooked on it, to be quite honest.

WJ: Typically in romantic adventure novels, the story is set in one or two truly romantic places. In Tracking the Skies for Lacy, though, you mix it up. We’re in Chicago, Oklahoma, Vietnam and Northern California — quite a mix of landscape and feeling — but we’re also in Samoa and briefly in Hawaii. Luke falls hard for the simple Polynesian life. Tell us how the paradise settings fit into the story.

SG: In my view, Polynesia was not only a visual paradise, but also a beautiful family-oriented place. The grandfather, or matai, guided the family. Children were raised by the whole family. One family could adopt other kids with no paperwork. Life was gentle. Lovemaking was natural, innocent, and an accepted part of the island culture. Unlike the U.S., there were no constant comparisons of income or status or the homes in which everybody lived. There was little unrest or unhappiness with one’s job, or career, or position. Natives were natural teachers, nurses, caregivers. Trained teachers were prized, valued, and respected far more than teachers here. Church leaders and pastors and ministers were treasured, churches filled with white-clad Polynesians who sang with a childlike devotion and a sublime beauty you have to hear in person to believe. I really wanted to present this life in the novel.

WJ: If you were to bounce around a library, comparing your novel to others, what would you come up with?

SG: Many of Louis L’Amour’s stories, like Sackett and To Tame a Land, carry an innocent young man with strong moral values into situations where he must prove himself as a man in order to win the woman he loves. And all American literature for boys begins with Huckleberry Finn, the story of an innocent boy running away from his Pap and into freedom. Herman Melville’s Typee, the first romance novel based in the South Pacific, has an innocent and moralistic hero as well. The Jason Bourne character from the Robert Ludlum series has parallels with Luke LaCrosse: masculine qualities, adventurous and ambitious, needs to win. Furthermore, Luke’s odyssey, like Ulysses’, involves one challenge and temptation after another, tortuous romance sailing through numerous reversals, crashing , picking himself up, setting sail again.

WJ: The two principal romantic interests, Luke and Lacy, as well as others, hail from the Chicago area, where you also grew up. Even though you have not lived in Chicago in many years, it still holds you in many ways. Could you share what the city means to you, and the sentiment you wove into the novel?

SG: Frank Sinatra once sang, “Chicago is my kind of town.” And then he repeats it. Hey, it is my kind of town too. Any time I leave, Chicago tugs my sleeve. It is the kind of town that won’t let you down. Carl Sandburg was right: Chicago is a big-shouldered man. He is stormy, husky, and brawling. He is a wildly delinquent Paul Bunyan the Lumberjack, remembered around the country with a twenty-foot high statue. He can outwork anybody, and fiercely wields an axe left and right, up and down, to reach his goals. Whatever he destroys he builds up with something else new.

WJ: Your novel provides a fictionalized account of military service we often don’t hear about — forecasting the weather and studying it. Since you were a ‘tornado chaser’, a member of the Sixth Weather Squadron, what is particularly concerning to you about climate change today?

SG: I spent a lifetime of study, especially on the cruel euphemism “global warming,” a blurred, imprecise way of “dumbing down” the debate. The real definition is catastrophic climate change. Global emissions of carbon dioxide exceeded 400 parts per million in 2017 — the highest in the 800,000 years they can study scientifically — and has been climbing for fifty years. It signals the build-up of human-related greenhouse gases from the burning of fossil fuels and forests.

Orwell said, “During times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act.” That’s where we are right now — telling the truth in the face of those who wish to deny climate change to hang onto their vested interests. The world faces multiple catastrophes: sea level rise measured in feet, not inches, staggeringly high temperature rise with four hundred consecutive months of above-average temperatures, permanent Dust Bowls, the desertification of the West, massive species loss, more intense and severe hurricanes, masses and clusters of tornado outbreaks, the vast enlargement of Tornado Alley, and other unexpected impacts such as the violent rainstorms in Italy October 2011 which inundated towns of the Cinque Terre, Vernazza and Monterosso.

TRACKING THE SKIES FOR LACY releases worldwide from Christian Faith Publishers on August 28. It will be available through bookstores, Amazon.com, and other online booksellers and e-book sellers.


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July 5, 2018 · 5:03 pm

When Life Requires a Change in Longitude: Interview with Authors Larissa and Michael Milne

Sometimes, life throws wicked curve balls at inopportune times – such as, middle age. A lifetime of plans fly out the window, and you’re left facing … what?

A couple of years ago, Larissa and Michael Milne experienced this scenario. To put it more bluntly, they encountered a personal apocalypse of sorts. Faced with a Milnes-Proposal covernumber of very difficult options, they chose to rekindle their love for each other – and to do it away from their Philadelphia home. So they sold everything, got on a plane – and spent the next year experiencing the world in what has grown into a most amazing story. Imagine taking in North Korea, Vietnam and Namibia while dealing with major family issues back home …

The Milnes are writing about their 31-country, 6-continent journey in Changes In Longitude, a book that couples travel narrative and poignant memoir, with the Milnes’ journalistic skill and catchy humor present throughout. The book is now beginning to make its rounds in the publishing world, where it is certain to find a home that puts copies in countless readers’ hands in the near future.  One thing for sure: the book is bolstered by one of the best and most brand-conscious websites out there, www.changesinlongitude.com.

Recently, I had the chance to interview the Milnes, to whom I was introduced through my work for another travel narrative author and client, Lynne Martin, author of the forthcoming Home Free. As you’ll see, the Milnes’ experience is distinctive, unique – and well worth turning the pages to follow, for both its travel and emotional richness.

Bob Yehling: In this busy publishing cycle of travel memoirs and narratives, you have a truly unique personal story that prompted your decision to travel for a year? Could you elaborate?

Larissa and Michael Milne: On the surface, our decision seems like a lark or reaction to a mid-life crisis. In reality, it sprang from much deeper roots. We were reeling from the physical and emotional strain of years of dealing with a destructive family situation related to our daughter, whom we had adopted from Russia. By the time she became an adult, our relationship with her was broken and we became reluctant empty nesters. We needed time to heal so we turned to our love of travel.

Larissa and Michael Milne pose with their Rocky statue in Philadelphia. The statue made the journey with them.

Larissa and Michael Milne pose with their Rocky statue in Philadelphia. The statue made the journey with them.

BY: You combined truly exotic or hard-to-reach destinations with some world favorites – North Korea, Namibia, Vietnam, etc. Could you describe how that added to your experience – and to the narrative of Changes in Longitude?

Milnes: This journey was about discovering new places as we rediscovered ourselves. We indulged our natural curiosity for far-flung destinations, seeking to understand the people behind the places. Since journalists are not permitted to enter North Korea, we provide rare perspectives of this isolated country. We met people there who were warm and welcoming, so unlike the vitriol spewed towards the world by their government.

In Vietnam, we toured the My Lai Massacre site (from the Vietnam War). Locals, once they found out we were Americans, embraced us and said “U.S.-Vietnam friends now.” We realized that no matter how much governments are in conflict, people are the same all over the world and respect each other.

BY: One of my favorite scenes is when you find yourself mired in a Scottish meadow, ankle deep in mud – with a bull getting ready to charge you. Why do you feel readers gravitate so readily to funny, even mindless moments within the larger scope of the journey?

 Milnes: Those I Love Lucy moments are entertaining. They remind us that travel is all about creating memories, experiences that you can’t predict. In 400 days of travel, we had our fair share. Wait until you read about Larissa’s encounter with a toilet on a Malaysian train.

BY: You’ve been writing a column for the Philadelphia Inquirer, as well as pieces for National Geographic Traveler and other magazines. You were also featured in Smithsonian Magazine. What age groups have you heard responses from? And how did this writing prepare you or aid your decision to write Changes in Longitude?

 Milnes: Chucking it all to travel is a dream of many, regardless of age. The phrase “you’re living the dream” is one we heard consistently from people all over the world. Travel stories in newspapers and magazines typically place the reader “in the moment” by telling them the who, what, where and why of the story. We spread our wings more in the book by taking the reader beyond what happened in the moment; delving deeper into the situations we encountered and people we met.

BY: What were the advantages and challenges of writing this book together?

Milnes: We each have slightly different perspectives of our experiences, which adds dimension to our narrative. It can be a challenge writing in a collective voice.

BY: You’ve obviously read several travel memoirs and narratives. What in your reading moved you the most about these works? And what devices did you find most advantageous to your book (though obviously tweaking to distinguish your voice and journey)?

 Milnes: Normally we enjoy reading narratives that make us want to visit a place. But there are also books like J. Marten Troost’s The Sex Lives of Cannibals. After reading it, we have absolutely no desire to visit Kiribati, but love the way he wrote about the country and its people with candor and affection. We both relish Bill Bryson; the way he writes with humor, but also delves into the local history, which places his observations in context.

BY: Why do you feel travel is such a great way to work through traumatic emotional or structural changes in our lives?

 Milnes: Travel takes a person completely out of the routines of daily life, giving them the space and time to heal while gaining a self-awareness they wouldn’t achieve at home. Living in a foreign land where nothing is familiar also avoids stepping on many of the emotional trip wires that are pervasive at home.

BY: The best single moment of your trip?

 Milnes: There was no one “best” moment, but there was a pivotal one when we realized how the journey was affecting us. This occurred on a beach in Perth, Australia as we were watching the sun melt into the Indian Ocean. It was the first time we realized that rather than taking a break, we were making a break; we would not return to our prior lives.  Every step forward would help us shape our new life.

That first step occurred sooner than expected. As more folks flocked to our isolated spot, we found out that we sat smack in the middle of a nude beach. To remain clothed would make us the odd man and woman out. So we shed our clothes as easily as we were shedding the vestiges of our former life. But one of the nice things about travel is that no one knows who you are. You can be anyone you want and even reinvent yourself along the way.

BY: The most challenging moment?

 Milnes: In North Korea, we were fed a steady diet of propaganda related to the Korean War and U.S.-North Korea relations.  We were warned ahead of time not to counter the guides with our version of these historic events. It wouldn’t reflect well on our hosts, and we wouldn’t their change minds, anyway. But when we were touring the War Museum in Pyongyang, Michael had enough of the alternative history – and apparently, it showed. He was pulled away from the group by an Army guide who questioned where he was from and why he was being so “callous.”

BY: Now that you’re shopping Changes in Longitude, what do you feel are the central themes, or even experiences, that readers may find most engrossing?

 Milnes: No matter how down your life might be, travel can provide uplifting moments. String enough of those moments together and you can find a path forward to true happiness, a happiness that is newly defined.

We embraced a much simpler lifestyle. (Living out of a 22” suitcase for a year will do that to you.) As the world became our home, our need for personal space has shrunk, and we no longer need the stuff we used to own. We learned to adapt to new environments and situations quickly; instead of acquiring possessions, we’re more interested in acquiring a wealth of experiences. None of this would have happened if we had continued with the same routine of our prior life. If you want to change your life, then change your life.

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Brewing an Adventure Romance Saga: Interview with Stephen B. Gladish

Author Stephen B. Gladish

Author Stephen B. Gladish

(NOTE: Stephen B. Gladish is the author of a trilogy of adventure romance novels: Mustang Fever (2007), Storm Chasers (2013), and a reworking of a 2005 novel, now entitled Island Fever and currently in the final editing stages. The three books tell the interwoven stories, adventures, challenges and triumphs of a few memorable characters – Chance Chisholm, Luke LaCrosse, Annie Banner, Moana, and Cheyenne Autumn. Gladish is also the creator and co-editor of the 2006 anthology, Freedom of Vision, featuring writing from behind prison walls. He served in the Air Force, and is a retired creative writing teacher from Pima (Arizona) Community College. His writing is adventurous, colorful, deeply engaging and filled with characters who bring out the best qualities in each other … and themselves.)

WJ: Steve, what types of adventure did you weave into Storm Chasers to illustrate the title?
SG: It includes four variations of storm chasing: tornadoes, nuclear detonations, attacks via helicopter, and white-water rafting.
WJ: How would you describe the book in a long sentence?
SG: The storm chaser protagonist, Luke LaCrosse, locates and records deadly tornadoes in our nation’s Tornado Alley, is blasted and temporarily blinded as he tracks nuclear detonations in the Pacific, hunts down the deadly enemy in Vietnam, and effects a stunning rescue as a white-water guide Idaho’s “River of No Return,” through all of which he struggles to reconnect with and win back his childhood sweetheart, the one consistent love of his life.
WJ: That’s a long sentence — almost a taste of Jack Kerouac! Speaking of which, who are some of the authors that influenced you most over the years, as a novelist and as a teacher of creative writing?
SG: I have a long list, both from writing and teaching. All are pretty well-known authors: Mark Twain, Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Louis L’Amour, Henry David Thoreau, Herman Melville, Emmanuel Swedenbourg, J.D. Salinger, James Fenimore Cooper, Larry McMurtrey, Herman Wouk, Ken Kesey, Stephen Crane, Langston Hughes, Stephen King, Flannery O’Connor, Truman Capote, Walt Whitman, William Faulkner, John Steinbeck, Robert Frost, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Edgar Allen Poe, Emily Dickinson, Robert Frost, and Harper Lee.
WJ: Back to your latest book. Where did the idea for Storm Chasers come from?
SG: I wanted to call attention to the importance of weather in everybody’s lives, especially with all the climate change going on right now. I served in the US Air Force 6th Weather Squadron (Mobile) and the Severe Weather Warning Command in the early ‘60s. In this fictional story stemming from real life events, I take the reader through the sheer adventure of Luke LaCrosse growing into a man just as the military venue designs it. From a weather warrior, he graduates to become an officer and a pilot, one of the few who came home from the Vietnam War psychologically unscathed.
In addition, I spent a lifetime of study especially on the cruel euphemism “global warming,” which I find a blurred, imprecise way of “dumbing down” the debate. The real definition is catastrophic climate change. Global emissions of carbon dioxide were a record high in 2011, and we had record high temperatures in the U.S. in 2012. The build-up of human-related greenhouse gases from the burning of fossil fuels and forests must not be ignored. Because of catastrophic climate changes, the world faces multiple catastrophes including: sea level rise of five feet, with sea levels rising as much as twelve inches a decade, staggeringly high temperature rise, permanent Dust Bowls, massive species loss, more intense and severe hurricanes, masses and clusters of tornado outbreaks, huge enlargement of area in Tornado Alley. There are other unexpected impacts, such as the violent rainstorms in Italy in October 2011 that inundated towns of the Cinque Terre, Vernazza and Monterosso, and almost sank Venice. As George Orwell said, “During time of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act.
WJ: How long did it take to write the first draft of your manuscript?
SG: Twelve months and three hundred desert trail runs in the Rincon Mountains.
WJ: All of us who write novels have our dreams of seeing the motion picture version. With that in mind, which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?
SG: If they were a little younger, Matt Damon would play Luke LaCrosse, Josh Brolin would play Chance Chisholm, and Elizabeth Hurley would play Annie.
WJ: Here’s a question that comes from the Next Best Thing Book Blog Tour, which I thought was quite revealing for readers who want to get a better grasp on an author’s influences and style: To which other books would you compare Storm Chasers within your genre?
SG: Though not technically in my genre, many of Louis L’Amour’s stories take an innocent young man with strong moral values into situations where he must prove himself as a man in order to win the woman he loves: Sackett, 1961; To Tame a Land, 1965. All American literature begins with Huckleberry Finn, the story of an innocent boy who runs away from his Pap and all the sins in the culture of his time. Luke too runs away from a broken relationship into freedom. Both Luke and Huck find a true friend on their adventure. Huck’s adventure rafts on the Mississippi River; Luke’s adventure sails in the Armed Services. Herman Melville’s Typee, the first romance novel based in the South Pacific, has an innocent and moralistic hero as well. The Jason Bourne character from the Robert Ludlum series has parallels with Luke LaCrosse. Masculine qualities, an adventurous and ambitious protagonist, needs to win.
WJ: Who or what inspired you to write this book?
SG: The desire to fictionalize key events from real life, to show the infinite possibilities of life, to demonstrate what it takes to grow into a man. To bring to attention the dangers of catastrophic climate change; recent massive outbreaks of tornadoes; possibilities of present day nuclear bomb disasters, which in 1962 the United States strove to avoid as they developed and tested the most powerful deterrent; a thermonuclear arsenal.
WJ: Tell us a little more about Luke LaCrosse. He is quite a morally strong protagonist, truly a model for young men today even though you’ve set the story in the 1960s. On top of that, you show romantic love not as a quick, perfect event, but as something that, in many cases, you have to pursue for years.
SG: Luke’s odyssey, like Ulysses’, involves one challenge and temptation after another, as we experience Annie Banner and Luke’s tortuous and seemingly tenuous romance. Luke the adventurer has the need to feel like a warrior; he is quietly rebellious, leading to moments of anti-authority. He may be the last soldier to settle down, while Annie comes from a traditional upper class authoritarian family intent on her marrying anyone other than Luke. They both grow away from their families in independence. Theirs is an extraordinary journey with reversals and crashes on the proverbial rocky island shores, in war and in peace. They pick themselves up and in their separate crafts set sail again, hoping to connect finally on the sandy shores of a harbor home.

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Unraveling Memory: Conversation with ‘Pretty Flamingo’ Author Perry Martin

Like his protagonist, David Perry, Pretty Flamingo author Perry Martin has a background as a recording and touring musician within and beyond his native Australia. That included a 15-month tour of his own in Vietnam, entertaining the troops. Like David Perry, he also re-settled in Orange County, CA.  Beyond that, his life and the fictional experiences in Pretty Flamingo take much different paths.

I spoke with Perry about his background and inspiration for this intriguing, gripping novel about the power, devastating impact, and ultimate liberation of resurrected memories. What began as a simple discussion about the book turned into a conversation that offers plenty of insight for writers of fiction, memoir and essay — not to mention a behind-the-scenes look at his fantastic opening novel, now available on Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble, Scribd.com (download), bookstores nationwide, and all online book and e-book sellers. You can also view a wonderfully produced preview trailer of the book on YouTube.

1) First of all, Perry, music plays an important part in David Perry’s growing-up years in Pretty Flamingo, obviously with some autobiographical moments in there. Could you talk about your long background in music?

I started at a very young age and was lucky enough to have some “brushes with greatness” during the course of my musical career.  I’ve worked with such people as Sheb Wooley of Rawhide fame, (the TV show that helped launch Clint Eastwood’s career), country legend Lefty Frizzell, pop/rock bands The Bee Gees, Ambrosia and Little River Band and, more recently, country greats Hal Ketchum and Lonestar.

Between 1968 and 1969, I had a 15-month stint in Vietnam with country showband The Donnie James Show ­– which is where I came into contact with Sheb Wooley, Left Frizzell and his daughter, Leta.  We went places no other band had ever gone in Vietnam and, because of that, we became so popular AFRTS gave us our own weekly TV show, Nashville Vietnam.

From 1970 to 1971, I toured Southeast Asia with my father as part of a three-piece music and comedy cabaret act.  We traveled to Japan, Okinawa, Singapore, Indonesia, Thailand, Taiwan and the Philippines.  My father and I eventually settled in Hong Kong where I embarked on my own music career, which spawned three albums of original material.

I left Hong Kong in 1983 for the U.S.A. and have lived here ever since.  Between 1990 and 1997 I was with the band Two-Way Street.  We were the opening act for B.J. Thomas, Ambrosia and Little River Band, among others.  More recently, I have been part of the country band Marshalltown and have had the pleasure of being the opening act for Hal Ketchum and Lonestar.

2) And your writing background?
I remember wanting to be a writer when I was kid, long before I developed an interest in music.  I wrote stories that I would pass around to friends and family and I seem to recall starting a novel when I was about 12 years old.  Lord knows what happened to it.  I think what happened was that I started noticing the attention musicians got from people – particularly girls – and that swayed me in the direction of music!

I think writing has been lying dormant in me, all these years, waiting for the right time to surface. I still had the urge to create artistically.  I believe that’s when I resurrected my dream of becoming a writer.

3) How do you feel your skills as a musician and songwriter lend to your storytelling capabilities as a novelist?

As a musician, if you want to be good, there’s a certain discipline.  You have to be willing to practice, practice, practice and you have to honestly compare yourself to those musicians you respect and admire.  That helped me develop my skill as a writer.  I basically used the same approach.  I read books by top authors and studied how they wrote, much the same way as I used to study how my guitar heroes played guitar, and then I would compare what I wrote to the authors whose work I admired and also most closely matched the kind of storytelling I wanted to achieve.  I also studied books on writing, character development, etc which kind of parallels the music books I used to study.

As a songwriter I always tried to write songs that would affect the audience emotionally.  It was also important to engage and interest them quickly.  You have a lot less time to do that in a song than you do in a book, but it’s a similar thing.  Grab the reader within the first paragraph, if possible.  And, most important, affect the reader emotionally just as I’d tried to do with my songs.

'Pretty Flamingo' author Perry Martin

4) Could you tell us about some of your other experiences that either made their way into Pretty Flamingo or informed them?
Well, the first thing I should confess to is that, although I consider myself an Aussie at heart ­– and certainly have that persona – I was originally born in England and then moved to Australia at a very young age.    As far as experiences go, there were a slew of incidents during my time with the country band in Vietnam that could be the subject of a whole book!   For instance, the motorcycle accident that the central character of Pretty Flamingo, David Perry, has when he’s in Vietnam.  That was based on actual personal experience.  I was in Saigon and I’d had a few too many beers and had no business riding home on that bike.  Many of the streets had large, wooden-framed, barbed-wire barricades that were positioned at presumably strategic points.  I managed to run my bike into one of them, flew over the handlebars and hit the road ­– hard.  I gashed my head pretty badly and it required several stitches above my left eyebrow.

There were also numerous occasions where the country band went to places no other band had been to.  We played for a Green Beret unit based very close to the Cambodian border.  Halfway through the show, we were rushed into a bunker because the base was being mortared.  The pedal steel player and I became the heroes of the evening as we grabbed a couple of cases of Pabst Blue Ribbon on our way to the bunker.  We sat out the attack, which was successfully fended off, of course ­ after all, we’re talking Green Berets! ­ and then went back to the club to finish off the show.

It was experiences like that, I think, made me grow up pretty fast, By the time I arrived back in Australia, I was a pretty mature sixteen-year old.  I portrayed David Perry that way in the book because, later on, he has to make some very adult decisions.

5) What are the elements of the Manfred Mann song “Pretty Flamingo” that worked for you as the theme to this book?
Well, for one thing, just the song in general evokes so many memories for me ­– both good and bad ­– that it seemed a natural choice.  It made it easy to write around because it was a part of my life at a time where events occurred that had a profound impact on me.  It reminded me of some very good friends and a family I cared very much about; they weren’t my family but they treated me that way.  That’s why I wrote them into the book.  For me, it’s also a very visual song.  Every time I hear the line, “crimson dress that clings to tight” I can see this gorgeous girl walking up the street that everyone on the block called “Flamingo”.

6) Without giving away the entire plot, you have written a story about an Australian now living in California who has a recall experience about something so shattering that he’s blocked it out for 35 years. What is it about sudden recall experiences that you find so intriguing and captivating that you’d wrap an entire story around it?

Wow, that’s a great question. First, like many people I know, I love a good mystery.  So, the idea that there is something buried in someone’s past that has been subconsciously affecting his decisions throughout his life was intriguing to me.  You could call it a “hidden influence”.  A movie that comes to mind is Conspiracy Theory, where the central character keeps buying the same book over and over again and has no idea why he’s doing it.  We eventually find out why when he finally remembers what happened.  It started me thinking along those lines.  How much of our lives might be influenced by forgotten events?  How many things are we doing or not doing because of something like that?

7) Once David has the shattering wake-up experience of déjà vu, you proceed to unravel the recall experience slowly … and then launch us into an incredible series of events for any two teenagers. What narrative issues did you work out before settling on this slow roll-out of the life-shattering event — as well as the decision to weave before-and-now chapters as you do?
I wanted to create conflict, mystery and suspense.  Some of the conflict comes from within as well as without and I wanted to show David wrestling with his own doubts and fears ­ which were his personal, internal antagonists – as well as the other antagonists he encounters along the way.   I found that rolling it out slowly, initially, helped create the mystery throughout the book.  Each time you discover the answer to one thing there are still other questions still not answered and, as I’ve been told by numerous people, this is what kept them turning the pages – which was what I wanted to do.

The decision to weave before-and-now chapters was also part of the whole idea of creating a mystery.  We see how, even the first few glimpses of previously forgotten memories, start to affect the main character. We watch him undergo a gradual transformation while, at the same time, we are able to go back and gradually discover how it was that he became the person he was at the start of the book.

8) In this book, you’ve got a full package on the human condition — mad teen love, more complicated mature adult love, a compelling mystery, exotic adventure, music, an unspeakable crime, and more. What do you feel are the important factors — or were the deciding factors in Pretty Flamingo — of writing such a story to maintain its believability?
Nobody in this book is perfect – because, let’s face it,  nobody is.  That’s what makes us human.  My characters have their flaws, and they don’t always make the right decisions but, except for the villains, they are basically good (as I believe most people are) and they try their best to do the right thing, at least from their point of view.  I purposely didn’t gift my characters with eloquence, excellent vocabularies or the best social graces, because that’s not the kind of people they were – especially the Aussies.  They are a down-to-earth, tell-it-like-it-is bunch of people and I think that makes them likeable and believable.

9) What about the characters of David Perry and Lisa Morgan made them both ideal for this “perfect storm” of a tale?
Well, without giving anything away, I think I can say that they had some things in common although they arrived at those things in different ways.  They both had experiences that forced them into a maturity beyond their years.  They also had some idea of themselves as spiritual beings, something more than just flesh and blood. That, for me, was the element that would eventually create the unbreakable bond between them.

10) David Perry and Lisa Morgan are compelling in entirely different ways. They’re also decidedly Australian, with a bit of swagger and persona that has been intriguing to American audiences for the past 25-30 years. As an Aussie who has lived in the U.S. for quite a long time, what do you feel it is about the Australian persona that draws us to seek it out in our movie and fiction characters?
I think there is a “no worries,” laid-back feel to the Aussies that is very attractive.  There’s also a refreshing honesty to them that I think we like. They are some of the friendliest, down-to-earth people you’ll ever meet..  There’s definitely a lack of political correctness, by and large, and I think it reminds Americans of how things used to be in this country.  To this day it’s still a bit “wild and wooly” in Australia and there’s that rebel streak that kind of says “take me or leave me, I don’t give a s–t!”  That’s the kind of attitude Americans used to have and it helped them kick the Brits out back in 1776 and grow to become the greatest nation on earth.  I think we’ve lost that here, to some degree, and the Aussies kind of remind us of what it was like to be that way.

11) What redeeming qualities or statements do you feel the characters and story of Pretty Flamingo make about love, forgiveness, redemption and the power of memory?
Overall, I think that the book demonstrates that the vast majority of us are good people and that the power of love can overcome anything.   It’s as important to forgive ourselves as it is to be forgiven, for we sometimes hold ourselves accountable when there is no longer any need.  Also, to know that nothing is truly forgotten – it may be buried, hidden or otherwise blocked out, but it is still there.  For you “not to remember” something implies that there must be “something there” to be forgotten.

12) What are your future writing plans?

I am actually working on another book right now, Savannah.  It’s a little different than Pretty Flamingo although there are some similarities inasmuch as there is once again a mystery aspect to it and the protagonist has had a troubled past.  It’s a story about childhood friendship, integrity and redemption.  There’s a spiritual aspect to it that’s quite interesting, too.  I’ve pulled a lot more from my experiences as a musician for this book and I’ve tried to give the reader some insight as to what it’s like to be a struggling musician.

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