Seven in a Jeep Book

Today I have a special guest on my new blog.  Please welcome the author of Seven in a Jeep:  A Memoir of the Vietnam War.

1)  Tell us a little bit about your book?  What are the main highlights?

Seven in a Jeep is about my experiences in Vietnam at a remote artillery firebase in the Central Highlands. I was there for a year, living with a cast of characters reminiscent of MASH. The book contains stories of the humorous, the crazy, the exciting and the sometimes tragic.

There is Top, a veteran of WWII and Korea who ran the firebase with a firm hand and met every crisis with a practical creativity, such as giving a demonstration at formation one morning on how to use a condom in order to stem the tide of VD sweeping through the ranks. There is Junk Daddy, who engineered the burying of contraband equipment in preparation for an inspection. There is Swede, who made more money playing poker than in regular pay. There is the young lieutenant we nicknamed Yossarian, for his distain for most things military. All the characters and all the stories are true.

2)  Tell us a little about yourself.  What is an interesting fact that you would like to share with the readers today?

One of the interesting facts about me I used as the opening to Seven in a Jeep.

I studied seven years to become a Catholic priest.  On ordination day, when my classmates lay prostrate before the bishop, I was dodging mortars, ducking snipers, and shooting howitzers at an artillery firebase in Vietnam.

After Vietnam I went on to a career with Anheuser-Busch in St. Louis, and with Limited Brands in Columbus, retiring a senior vice-president.

3)  What is your favorite part about writing?

The first draft is always the most fun. You can let your ideas flow onto the page without a worry. After that it becomes work, cutting out the stuff that gets in the way of the story no matter how well written, trimming sentences down to their essentials, arranging the flow of the narrative to have dramatic tension, painting characters with a detail not a dissertation, and agonizing over the question, Is it interesting to read?

4)  What are you working on right now?  Is it top secret?

Not much about my life is top secret. I am working on two things.

The first is a sequel to Seven in a Jeep. I think we are calling it Army Surplus, or something like that. It picks up my stories after Vietnam, such as my experiences on campus when I returned to school just a couple months out of Vietnam, my visit years later to the Memorial in Washington, and how Vietnam influenced my thinking over the years.

I am also working on a full length book titled The Boys of Battery B. It will tell the history of my artillery battery in Vietnam through the stories of the guys who were there. I have located about 30 guys who served with B Battery from its arrival in Vietnam in 1965 to its return home in 1971. Their stories are as whacky as mine and I am having a delightful time listening to them. Most of the guys were just boys in Vietnam, 18 and 19 years old. Today they are in their 60s but become kids again when the stories begin to flow. Several have made it a special point to tell me about Sergeant Farrell’s pet monkey and laugh out loud as if the monkey hung itself only yesterday. As each chapter is written it appears on my blog at Seveninajeep.com.

5)  Bologna or Ham?

As a kid it was bologna all the way, fried with a slit to prevent curling, and served in a sandwich with mustard and pickles. It conjures images of my mother standing at the stove, the frying pan spitting little drops of fat onto the floor.

Then I married Kathleen, my first generation Irish beauty. Her mother, also a Kathleen and with a brogue I could never resist, converted me to ham. Every time I walked into her front door she greeted me with, “Ed, would you like a ham sandwich?” Her daughter inherited her love of ham, and now our home is never without a package of ham in the refrigerator and a backup half pound in the freezer.

6)  Do you listen to music when you write?

I do not do anything when I write, except occasionally scratch something. I never thought about it until this question, but I think it’s because when I write I listen to the sentence in my head, for rhythm and flow and lilt. If I were to fire up some music it would be Sinatra. Nobody phrased a lyric like Frank.

7)  Where can we find books you have written?

Amazon, local libraries and Columbus Creative Cooperative. The Book Loft carries it and probably a number of other independents.

8)  What genre do you like to read?

Any genre as long as the writing is good. I love Elmore Leonard, especially his genius at writing dialog. If I could do it only half as well.

Laura Hillenbrand knows her way around a sentence. I was impressed with Unbroken for the dramatic tension she was able to establish on the first page and maintain throughout the book. Then I learned that she never met Lou Zamperini, her main subject, until after the book was published. All of her interviews with him were over the telephone. I am conducting many of my interviews by telephone for The Boys of Battery B. Laura took the fear away that a telephone interview would result in flat, mechanical writing. She is my inspiration as I pick up the phone.

9)  Anyone you would like to give a shout out to?

Brad Paquette and Lin Rice have been terrific to work with. This is my first publication and they did a great job of ushering me through the process of editing, selecting cover art and figuring out how to sell the darn thing.

10) How long have you been a writer?

Ever since I can remember. I am fortunate that all through my formal education I had wonderful English teachers. One in particular whipped us to rewrite, rewrite, rewrite. He questioned every comma; he took a red pencil to show-off prose; he x’d out whole paragraphs; he’d scribble advice at the bottom on our papers such as, “Say one thing well, not twenty like a babbling idiot.”

11) Do you write any poetry or make any kind of art outside of writing?

My parents never saved a single picture from school. Loving parents will usually find something to save. I remember an agonizing five minutes in first grade when the teacher tried to help me draw a horse. I started at the tip of its nose, went up to the top of the head and threw on a couple of ears, cruised over the back and around the rump, managed four legs around the belly, and as I ascended to connect the line back to the nose I discovered to my horror that the nose was not where I had left it. Still I made a brave show of the line finding the nose, now way behind the front legs. I looked up at the teacher, who patted my shoulder and moved on.

12) What advice would you give to new authors?

First be passionate about your subject matter. The topic does not have to be grand, just important to you.

Second, learn the craft of writing; it’s mostly blue collar work. Get On Writing Well by William Zinsser and make it your bible.

Third – I learned this only recently in writing Seven in a Jeep – establish a writing routine for yourself. Pulling all-nighters was not sustainable for me, and when I looked at what I had written in the cold light of day I usually threw it away. Now I write for a determined period of time in the morning, three or four hours, and then I quit. I get something to eat, I exercise, I run my errands, I have a life. There’s always tomorrow.

13) What is the most important thing you have learned about marketing your “brand”?

First have a brand to talk about. I learned working for Les Wexner that brand definition comes first. We put together thick notebooks on the Seven Ps of brand definition: product, positioning, price, etc. before we could even begin to discuss how to market the product.

In defining my “brand” I wrote Seven in a Jeep six or seven different ways, experimenting with tone, language, humor and dialog. It was agonizing. But now it’s me and I can write about almost any topic without having to change my fundamental writing personality.

I am learning that marketing a brand involves a great deal of social media. I am in my late 60s, so did not grow up with tweets and blogs. But I am learning.

You can learn more about the author and the book here:

http://seveninajeep.com/

 

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