From Memoir to Novel – the metamorphosis of a manuscript about war as hell – Part 1/3

I started writing my next novel “Running With the Enemy” in 1981 as a memoir of an American Marine serving in Vietnam in 1966.

In 1981, I was working toward an MFA in 20th century American literature/writing at Cal Poly Pomona where I earned a teaching credential in 1975 – 76.

I never finished the memoir and only wrote about 200 pages. In fact, the first forty pages took several months to write. It was on page forty-one that I arrived in Chu Lai, Vietnam by climbing down a boarding net into a landing craft in one of the Marine Corps last major amphibious landings.

However, later in the 1980s, I brushed the dust off that unfinished manuscript and enrolled in UCLA’s extension-writing program. My workshop instructor was Marjorie Miller and she recruited a few of her students into her off-campus workshops held in a small room above an Italian restaurant in Westwood near the UCLA campus. For several years on Saturday mornings, I drove 135 miles round trip to attend Miller’s workshop

There was a big difference in the quantity and quality of writing among twenty or more students in a UCLA classroom and the five or six writers around that table in a rented room above an Italian restaurant—same instructor with fewer writers meant more time for each writer.

After I read the first chapter of my Vietnam memoir, Miller said it was not going to work and I should consider writing it as a novel.

Miller was a tough taskmaster with a short fuse. She was NOT an advocate of fluffing up a sense of false self-esteem with warm fuzzies and was not into, “Let’s all have fun and follow our dreams.”

She was a tough and sometimes harsh critic. Miller understood that for most individuals to stand a chance to achieve his or her dream would require dedication and discipline in addition to never stop learning the craft of writing.

I recall that I revised one chapter more than thirty times and Miller lost patience more than once with me for taking so long to fix the problems in that chapter.

Moreover, I wanted to include as much reality as possible in the novel, so I borrowed from my experiences in Vietnam, the experiences of my fellow Marines, and what I discovered about the war later.

For example, early in 1966, a Marine in my unit, a cook, murdered the father of a Vietnamese adolescent that he either raped or paid to have sex with him. The cook claimed that he found the girl working in a rice paddy and offered her fifty US dollars to have sex with him. He said she agreed and while they were in the act, the girl’s father caught them. Later, the girl would identify the cook as her father’s murderer in a lineup, and he was convicted and sentenced to twenty years to life in a federal prison. At least, that’s what we were told, and then the cook was gone—shipped out.

That cook wasn’t the only American soldier to rape and/or murder innocent Vietnamese citizens.

Continued on June 21, 2012 in From Memoir to Novel – the metamorphosis of a manuscript about war as hell – Part 2

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Lloyd Lofthouse, a former U.S. Marine and Vietnam Veteran, is the award winning author of The Concubine Saga.

His latest novel is Running with the Enemy. Blamed for a crime he did not commit while serving in Vietnam, his country considers him a traitor. Ethan Card is a loyal U.S. Marine desperate to prove his innocence or he will never go home again.

And the woman he loves and wants to save was trained to hate and kill Americans.

To follow this Blog via E-mail see upper right-hand column and click on “Sign me up!”

War—the Waiting

Fear can be like a bone chewing pit-bull full of worry that will not let go.  For LBJ, after he was out of the White House, I believe his fear came from guilt. Years ago, I read a review about a book written by one of the Secret Service agents that guarded LBJ on his ranch after he left the White House.  This agent wrote that LBJ had a chapel on the ranch where the 36th President went daily to pray. The agent reported that LBJ talked a lot about dying. I think LBJ wanted to die—his way to escape the people he gifted with death, those that haunted him.

Waiting for something to happen is worse than when it happens. During the first Gulf War when the older Bush was President, most Americans, through the media, had an up-close view of war at its best and that image was misleading.

Wars seldom work as well as that one did—with so few causalities and so many quick kills and victories leading to the gates of Bagdad where GWB’s dad knew when to stop.  This morning, I read a great piece written by Christopher Torchia, an Associated Press reporter. In  “Afghanistan battle shows war rarely fought to plan“, Torchia captured the atmosphere of warriors waiting.

It reminded me that when a night patrol, an ambush or a field operation came along, most of us wanted to get outside the safety of the barbed wire so bad, we drew straws hoping to get the short one—the one that would put us in harm’s way.

Discover Before PTSD, it was called Combat Fatigue or Shell Shock

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Lloyd Lofthouse, a former U.S. Marine and Vietnam Veteran, is the award winning author of The Concubine Saga.

His latest novel is Running with the Enemy. Blamed for a crime he did not commit while serving in Vietnam, his country considers him a traitor. Ethan Card is a loyal U.S. Marine desperate to prove his innocence or he will never go home again.

And the woman he loves and wants to save was trained to hate and kill Americans.

To follow this Blog via E-mail see upper right-hand column and click on “Sign me up!”

Trained Killers

That was me in 1966, a trained killer. That was what I was trained to do at MCRD—to kill the enemy and not fight him—but to destroy him or her.

When I read the title, The Threat From Within, Some soldiers become murderers by Jim Frederick, Time Magazine, February 22, 2010; my first thought was that this issue was more complicated than that.

I read the piece, and then looked up the author’s bio. I saw no mention that Frederick served in the military or in a combat zone as a member of the military. No matter how many military men he interviewed or how much research he did, Frederick will never understand what it is like to be the hunter or hunted in a combat zone and what it does to that person.

The Threat From Within never mentions PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). I have a PTSD VA rated disability from serving in combat in Vietnam in 1966. When I was in Vietnam, I knew men who did horrible things probably driven by PTSD.  Current research shows that PTSD causes permanent brain damage. I’m sure that the reason the military handles incidents that would appear to be crimes in a civilian world the way they do, is because the officers know the horrible blood price that comes with winning a war and many people like Jim Frederick do not.

Frederick indicates that the military should find a way to root out these potentially dangerous individuals so these types of killings do not take place. It’s bad enough that our soldiers are put in harm’s way with rules that do not allow them to shoot unless they see the shooter with weapon in hand. They did that to us in Vietnam and America lost that war.

After years of war in Iraq and Afghanistan and a military stretched to the breaking point, if every solider damaged by PTSD were pulled from combat, there wouldn’t be enough troops left to accomplish winning a war America cannot afford to lose. Consider that Al-Qaida and their allies have sworn the utter and total destruction of our entire civilization.

In war, the military has a job to do. If that means sending partially damage troops into combat still capable of fighting and killing, that’s what’s done.

From history, we learned that great military minds like Alexander the Great understood that war is hell and must be fought as if the battlefield is hell itself. America fought like that in World War II and won. In a war zone, there are no innocent people no matter what the media prints or says and only ignorant people and fools support putting limits on our troops doing their job. Even in the Korean conflict, the harsh reality of war existed.

If the rules that our troops fight under today existed during World War II, America would have lost and eventually been split between Japan and Germany.  If you lived in the West, the flag to salute would have a rising sun and in the east a swastika.

In my opinion—Jim Frederick and people that think like him are ignorant fools. Let them have their say and politely ignore them.

Discover The Public Image of PTSD and the Vietnam Veteran

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Lloyd Lofthouse is a former U.S. Marine and Vietnam Veteran.

His latest novel is the award winning suspense-thriller Running with the Enemy. Blamed for a crime he did not commit while serving in Vietnam, his country considers him a traitor. Ethan Card is a loyal U.S. Marine desperate to prove his innocence or he will never go home again.

And the woman he loves and wants to save was fighting for the other side.

To follow this Blog via E-mail see upper left-hand column and click on “FOLLOW!”

Pain, Pollution and People

It’s difficult to write when I’m gasping for air and blowing my top. When I was still teaching, walking into a classroom in the morning made me sick—and no, I wasn’t allergic to my students, but I should have been.

Then I retired and for five years, I have been free of wheezy lungs and sinus infections that always arrived with the start of each school year when I worked in those old buildings at the high school where I taught. Have you heard of sick building syndrome? I lived it.

This new, peaceful world changed several weeks ago. Workers came with power tools and mud-caked boots. I should have fled, but I stayed at my computer as a stupid, stubborn, former United States Marine would.

My office has three doors. One that leads toward the other rooms and one that opens to the outside. Then there is the door that opens to the space under the second story and the foundation. That crew drilled, pounded, cut and tracked dirt from room to room—always in my office. I had trouble concentrating. I suffered from memory loss. Plastic tarps covered most of the furniture, and I couldn’t find things. When I left the office to find a moment of peace, I covered the computer and printers with a bed sheet. The noise reminded me of combat but worse, because I was nineteen and then twenty when I was in Vietnam—noise did not bother me as it does now.

covered office furniture

Concrete dust floated through the air and my sinuses and lungs rebelled, so I put on a 3M mask with two pink HEPA filters attached. The last time I wore a mask like this was when I was teaching. I searched the garage and found the noise suppresser to help mute the pounding and drilling.  I looked like an explorer to Mars or a survivor of trench warfare struggling to write while the frigid air froze my fingers.

The crew had arrived to bolster the foundation against future earthquakes that might never arrive. Even if a hard tumbler did visit, I doubt that all that work would hold our sixty-year old hillside house together. It still might slide down the hill into the middle of the street blocking traffic.

I could have moved, but I didn’t want to disconnect all the cables and cart the equipment to another room for a few days to escape the dust and noise—something (I soon discovered) that would have been impossible without checking into a hotel.

Even with a noise suppresser covering my ears, muted sounds intruded and the last place I wanted to be was in this chair writing about China, the Vietnam War or being a teacher in the tortured American public schools. I stuck with it for days as my suppressed anger fueled by PTSD started to simmer and fume.

It was a relief when the workers finished. I thought I was going to have the tranquility back where the only noise would be the click of the keys as my warmed hands flew across the keyboard meeting my Blogging goals.

But the workers left something behind.

I started sneezing. My sinuses ran hundred mile marathons. I went to the doctor and he prescribed medications that didn’t work. The sneezing went volcanic—like Mt. Saint Helena blowing its top.  One time, I sneezed so bad, I blew the 3M mask off my face—so much for a mask that’s supposed to protect you from every gas and plague Islamic terrorists can brew. Upstairs or outside, I was fine. But in my office, I was a goner. “Blam, blam, balm,” my nose exploded like rapid shots from a fifty-caliber submachine gun.

I could have opened windows, but it’s been raining for weeks.  The sky has been overcast.  The air breezy and cold.  Then today, the sun came out and I finally let the outside in and the sneezing stopped—I’m crossing my fingers and knocking on wood. I’m afraid to close the windows, but night will come and with it lower temperatures. I fear that whatever industrial poison is haunting my once tranquil office space might return.

Return to A Repeat of Agent Orange in America’s Heartland?

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Lloyd Lofthouse, a former U.S. Marine and Vietnam Veteran, is the award winning author of The Concubine Saga.

His latest novel is Running with the Enemy. Blamed for a crime he did not commit while serving in Vietnam, his country considers him a traitor. Ethan Card is a loyal U.S. Marine desperate to prove his innocence or he will never go home again.

And the woman he loves and wants to save was trained to hate and kill Americans.

To follow this Blog via E-mail see upper right-hand column and click on “Sign me up!”

Reality TV is a Mental Illness

Reality TV is a Mental Illness

I read a blog post from The UX of Social Media Blog, and the author wrote, “The suffering of others is also the staple of millions of viewers who tune in from squalid rooms and palaces alike to watch someone besides themselves become the latest humiliated outcast.”


The Reality of Reality TV

After reading the rest of the post, I thought of a letter I received in Vietnam that said, Dear Skip. Then I thought of the millions who have nothing more constructive to do but tune in and watch others suffer and be humiliated. This same ship of fools may also have enjoyed my suffering then, but I’m also sure they would not want to have what I brought home from Vietnam—the beast that lives inside my head.

I have no desire to watch reality TV, and I’m sure America would be a better place if the misguided people that watch this junk had a dose of Vietnam as I did. Maybe then, Americans would be less combative and judgmental on so many levels like this dog fight between the Democrats and Republicans.

Learn more about the reality of Politics as Usual

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Lloyd Lofthouse, a former U.S. Marine and Vietnam Veteran, is the award winning author of The Concubine Saga.

His latest novel is Running with the Enemy. Blamed for a crime he did not commit while serving in Vietnam, his country considers him a traitor. Ethan Card is a loyal U.S. Marine desperate to prove his innocence or he will never go home again.

And the woman he loves and wants to save was trained to hate and kill Americans.

To follow this Blog via E-mail see upper right-hand column and click on “Sign me up!”

The Recon

I was one of four Marines in two jeeps. We were Marines but we were not Recon Marines. Two of the four were officers. One was a staff sergeant, and I was the radio operator with equipment so old that the three spare batteries had a better chance of being dead before me. Heck, they were feeding us twenty-year old C-rations. The sides of the boxes were stamped 1945 and it was 1966. Proof that the Marines don’t waste anything.

What was more dangerous? The food we were eating or the Vietcong. It’s good to be stupid and nineteen—not knowing about botulism. Besides, I liked the ham and limas.

The 1st Marine tank battalion was involved in a field operation with a South Korean unit—the kind of soldiers you want on your side. The US Marines and the Koreans, along with an ARVN unit, were forming a box to trap a regiment of North Koreans.

We drove ahead of our troops to check the depth of the rice paddies making sure our tanks wouldn’t be bogged down. Every mile or so, we would stop and the officers, a major and a lieutenant, would take a long pole and poke a paddy.

Once we were fifteen to twenty miles ahead of our lines, I lost contact with our people.  I switched batteries until I’d tried them all. Then we rolled through a recently deserted village where I saw the Vietcong flag and radio antennas sticking from the top of a tree.  Food was still cooking on open flames inside empty huts.

I pointed them out, and the staff sergeant said, “Don’t tell the officers. They don’t need the worry.”

Thirty miles in front of the lines, the officers were busy poking a rice paddy when I spied a line of muscular men in peasant clothing coming toward us. I was squatting behind the second jeep watching our rear holding a fifty-caliber Ingram submachine gun. I was dressed in camouflage, the jeep was olive green, and I was squatting in shadows. These guys were approaching from the rear and the staff sergeant and officers didn’t know.

I felt like an orphan about to be molested.

When that line of men reached the dirt road and climbed from the rice paddy, I stood so they could see my weapon and me, the skinny Marine who had gained twenty pounds in boot camp and was no longer invisible if he turned sideways.

A fifty caliber Ingram submachine gun with a fifty-round clip will cut small trees and men in half. Once you pull the bolt and let go, the entire clip empties.  There was another clip taped to the first one. It’s a quick change.  You aim to the left of the target and the recoil swings the weapon in an arc to the right.

They saw me and, still walking military fashion, crossed the road, went down the other side into the next rice paddy and kept going. No one shot at us on that recon, but this kind of memory causes you to wake sweaty at three in the morning listening. I remember thinking that maybe my hands were too slick with sweat to pull the bolt and fire.

Discover The ambush; the king cobra and the water buffalo

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Lloyd Lofthouse, a former U.S. Marine and Vietnam Veteran, is the award winning author of The Concubine Saga.

His latest novel is Running with the Enemy. Blamed for a crime he did not commit while serving in Vietnam, his country considers him a traitor. Ethan Card is a loyal U.S. Marine desperate to prove his innocence or he will never go home again.

And the woman he loves and wants to save was trained to hate and kill Americans.

To follow this Blog via E-mail see upper right-hand column and click on “Sign me up!”

“This Emotional Life” on PBS

PBS Tackles Happiness In ‘This Emotional Life’
http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=122207615

I understand that this series on PBS will also be discussing PTSD.  Since PBS offers Podcasts of programs that have aired, you may want to listen in.

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Lloyd Lofthouse, a former U.S. Marine and Vietnam Veteran, is the award winning author of The Concubine Saga.

His latest novel is Running with the Enemy. Blamed for a crime he did not commit while serving in Vietnam, his country considers him a traitor. Ethan Card is a loyal U.S. Marine desperate to prove his innocence or he will never go home again.

And the woman he loves and wants to save was trained to hate and kill Americans.

To follow this Blog via E-mail see upper right-hand column and click on “Sign me up!”

About the PTSD Forum

I found this interesting site and wanted to share it.

http://www.ptsdforum.org/

This is the site’s introduction: “Welcome to PTSD Forum. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a life threatening, debilitating disorder that can break down a sufferer’s body through anxiety and stress. Further it poses a significant suicide risk resulting from the brains neurological imbalance and chemical depression. Sufferers often live in denial, thus this community is aimed at helping PTSD sufferers help themselves through others experiences, guidance and education. We are here for the sufferer, spouse and families surrounding PTSD. Spouses and family are too often forgotten in this equation, and often they receive all the worst that PTSD has to offer. If you’re involved in any way with PTSD, get registered and help yourself now.”

This Website asks for donations. They claim that the “PTSD Forum is costly to run and maintain. Your donations assist to keep this free resource online. All donations are gratefully received.”

I question the “costly” claim. I pay less than a hundred dollars a year to maintain several Websites, and the Blogs I maintain cost nothing but time. Blogs like mine on WordPress are free. The Soulful Veteran was created on WordPress and there was no cost except in the time writing and posting. It would be interesting to see an itemized list of expenses from the PTSD Forum.  Maybe they pay a Webmaster to maintain their site.  I don’t have that problem since I am the Webmaster for all my Blogs and Websites. The Soulful Veteran will never ask for money. If you see an error or mistake, I’m the responsible party. Let me know, and I may correct it.

The only way I could see that the PTSD Forum is costly would be if the staff paid themselves and running the forum was their job. Maybe I’m wrong. Regardless, there could be important information to help someone with PTSD on this site so do not ignore it.

Learn more about PTSD

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Lloyd Lofthouse, a former U.S. Marine and Vietnam Veteran, is the award winning author of The Concubine Saga.

His latest novel is Running with the Enemy. Blamed for a crime he did not commit while serving in Vietnam, his country considers him a traitor. Ethan Card is a loyal U.S. Marine desperate to prove his innocence or he will never go home again.

And the woman he loves and wants to save was trained to hate and kill Americans.

To follow this Blog via E-mail see upper right-hand column and click on “Sign me up!”

Politics as Usual

Amazing.  Politics as usual.

http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20091230/ap_on_go_co/us_airliner_attack_demint_1

Here we are fighting a war with an enemy that wants to destroy America and everyone in it, and the Republicans are putting obstacles in the way of America’s safety net that is supposed to protect America against terrorists while blaming the democrats for what happened on that Northwest flight.

Let’s not forget that Americans are dying in Iraq and Afghanistan and many come home missing parts or with PTSD.

In Vietnam, I remember congress passing rules of engagement. We weren’t supposed to shoot until we saw who was shooting at us so we wouldn’t hit noncombatants leading to bad press in the media.

Try that in the jungle when you cannot see anyone and someone is shooting at you.

Near the end of my tour, we had a young lieutenant just out of West Point who drummed it into us that we weren’t supposed to shoot unless we saw who was shooting at us.  Then he was pinned down on a patrol and he was shouting at us to lay down covering fire.

Yea, right!

No one fired. Then a voice, “We can’t see who is shooting at you.”

What are we supposed to say to the enemy who wants to kill us? “Hold your fire! Hold your fire! You aren’t playing by the rules.  This isn’t’ fair. You are a cheater. I’m going to tell your mommy what you are doing.”

What does congress and the media think war is, a game of Risk (that board game kids sometimes play)?  Hey guys, we aren’t made of plastic here. We bleed and even if we walk away, we leave damaged.

What do you think? Maybe we should shoot the politicians and the reporters instead.

Learn more from John Kerry, Purple Hearts, PTSD and Weapons of Mass Destruction

_______________________

Lloyd Lofthouse, a former U.S. Marine and Vietnam Veteran, is the award winning author of The Concubine Saga.

His latest novel is Running with the Enemy. Blamed for a crime he did not commit while serving in Vietnam, his country considers him a traitor. Ethan Card is a loyal U.S. Marine desperate to prove his innocence or he will never go home again.

And the woman he loves and wants to save was trained to hate and kill Americans.

To follow this Blog via E-mail see upper right-hand column and click on “Sign me up!”

Stanford Study shows effect of PTSD trauma on brain

There is current evidence that PTSD causes damage to areas of the brain. An ongoing study at the University of Stanford in California shows this to be true. http://www.contracostatimes.com/ci_14014471?source=most_emailed&nclick_check=1

The history of PTSD http://www.psychiatric-disorders.com/articles/ptsd/causes-and-history/index.php says that this disorder wasn’t recognized until 1980. Although this means we have recognized PTSD for about thirty years now, that doesn’t mean we have reached a total understanding of what causes it and how to deal with it. Scientists and doctors are still learning. Compare PTSD to some cancers that modern medicine has dealt with for much longer and they still have no cure–just better ways to identify the cancer early and deal with it.  The earlier the discovery, the better chance for recovery and to live a life considered normal. Current evidence about PTSD is saying the same thing. If you have symptoms of cancer and ignore it, the odds are it won’t vanish. The same thing goes for PTSD.

I have read about research for other illnesses that show the longer a physical or psychologically health related problem is “not” treated, the less chance there is to overcome the damage caused.

One thing I’ve learned while living with PTSD for more than forty years is that a healthy lifestyle without booze helps me handle the trauma better.  Before I stopped drinking and eating an unhealthy diet, my PTSD symptoms were worse than they are now.  I still sleep with weapons and I still wake up at every sound and have trouble sleeping.  If I get four hours of sleep in one stretch, that’s good.

Before I sleep, I always do an inside perimeter check to make sure the windows and doors are locked. When I’m out in public, I’m alert to everything around me as if I were going to be attacked at any moment. I still have an unpredictable temper to watch over and there are times it escapes. Double that or triple it before I stopped drinking. The worse thing to do is be in denial and “not” to talk or write about it.  The first step to dealing with PTSD is to admit it is there and stop visiting the liquor store.

Imagine what life was like for people with PTSD before 1980.  How did WWI, WWII, and Korean War veterans deal with PTSD when they came home?  I read recently that the average Vietnam veteran’s lifespan is in the fifty age bracket.  Why do you think that is so?

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Lloyd Lofthouse, a former U.S. Marine and Vietnam Veteran, is the award winning author of The Concubine Saga.

His latest novel is Running with the Enemy. Blamed for a crime he did not commit while serving in Vietnam, his country considers him a traitor. Ethan Card is a loyal U.S. Marine desperate to prove his innocence or he will never go home again.

And the woman he loves and wants to save was trained to hate and kill Americans.

To follow this Blog via E-mail see upper right-hand column and click on “Sign me up!”