What does it mean to be first and last at the same time?
The four books I’ve published so far were not published in the order they were written. My first published novel was “My Splendid Concubine,” and about 100,000 readers have read this book since January 2008 when the first copy sold, but this book was not my first novel. The concubine was the last one I wrote. I started researching and writing this one in 1999.
“Running with the Enemy” and “The Redemption of Don Juan Casanova” were both written and finished out of UCLA’s extension writing program back in the 1980s, and “Running” started out as a memoir with a working title that I can’t remember. The professor convinced me to turn “Running” into fiction and ditch the memoir idea, and for two of the seven years I was in her workshop, I wrote and repeatedly revised that book.
The professor’s name at UCLA was Marjorie Miller. She’s gone now. Cancer got her. When any of the writers in her workshop was ready, according to Marjorie, she found agents for them, and she found one for “Running”. That agent managed to get the interest of a senior editor at Random House who eventually rejected the novel but said he’d enjoyed reading it. The reason for the rejection was readers were not buying books about the Vietnam War and the market was glutted with titles that were not selling.
That manuscript ended up on a shelf in my garage, and I went on to write the next one that turned out to be “The Redemption of Don Juan Casanova”. That novel also started out with a different title, one that Marjorie and the rest of the writers in that workshop didn’t like.
The teacher’s memoir I wrote, “Crazy is Normal, a classroom expose,” started life in the 1995 – 96 school year as a daily journal that turned into a book almost two decades later. The journal was not the memoir. It was the source of the memoir that I wrote after I published “Concubine”.
I see it as ironic that one Amazon reviewer accused me of being too “Rambo-ish” in “Running with the Enemy” and rated the book with a 2-star review. Rich T. wrote, “It started out OK, then became a bit to much unbelievable. The hero is to (Rambo-ish). Nothing can stop him. Jumping out of a plane at night with a bum leg. Sorry … Not my cup of tea.”
“It’s what Recon is all about – Pain! … Semper Fi, Do or Die!”
Jumping out of a plane with a bum leg is not Rambo-ish. This is what Marines do if the situation called for it. I should know, I am a former Marine.
When I was still in boot camp at MCRD, voices and a clattering noise woke me once at three in the morning. I left my bunk and looked outside the Quonset hut to discover a squad of Marines with white-plaster casts on arms and legs. Those Marines were playing football on a rack of pipes about twelve feet off the ground. As I recall, each pipe looked like it had a four-inch diameter. The polls that held them up were thicker.
I found out later that those crazy Marines were all from Force Recon and were back from Vietnam recuperating at the base hospital before they returned to combat. They weren’t supposed to be out of their beds. They weren’t supposed to be playing football twelve feet off the ground balanced precariously on a set of pipes.
A few weeks later, when my right leg was broken during hand-to-hand combat practice, I was offered the choice to heal at the base hospital when I’d be allowed to join another platoon to finish boot camp.
The DI made it clear that if I stayed with the platoon, I had to do almost everything the rest of the recruits were doing in training, and I did. The bone had a vertical fracture running its length and a cast wouldn’t help it heal or protect it. The doctor’s advice was to stay off the leg as much as possible. I didn’t. The pain was intense but I hid the pain out of fear that I might end up in that hospital bed. I wanted to graduate from boot camp with my platoon. That was 1965; I was 20.
I turned 21 in Vietnam where I’d hold a grenade with the pin pulled to make sure if I fell asleep while on watch, the blast would wake the others. The idea of me falling asleep and the Vietcong getting into the bunker and killing my fellow Marines wasn’t something I was willing to risk. Whenever I was that tired, I’d slip out of the bunker to a nearby foxhole and then pull the pin on that grenade that was meant to become an alarm clock if I fell asleep and my hand relaxed. I kept the pin in a top pocket so I could reinsert it at the end of my watch.
The first Rambo film came out in 1982 and was set in the United States after Vietnam Vet John Rambo (Sylvester Stallone) returned to the states. Rambo was having a difficult time adjusting to civilian life. The first film in the series did not take place in Vietnam or Southeast Asia.
Rambo: First Blood Part II came out in 1985. By then I’d finished writing the novel that was alleged to be too “Rambo-ish”. The 3rd Rambo film was released in 1988, and the 4th film came out in 2008. The plot of the novel that I published decades after I wrote it wasn’t changed from the original.
My next novel is one I’ve been thinking about since I was in grade school.
By the age of 10, I was an avid reader obsessed with the King Arthur Merlin myth. I read science fiction and fantasy novels sometimes two a day. I’d daydream stories of who Merlin was. Almost sixty years later, I started writing “Becoming Merlin”, and the paperback ARC copies are with my BETA readers now.
The real Merlin from the myth was a sorcerer; an immortal shapeshifter and no one knew where he came from or where he went after Arthur died. In the ancient myths, Arthur lived around the 6th century, and at the end of the TV series Merlin broadcast by the BBC starting in 2009, in the last scene for the last season, we see Merlin walking beside a highway about fourteen hundred years later in the United States with his thumb out hitchhiking long after Arthur’s time.
My Merlin has little to nothing in common with the Merlin of the myth or the BBC TV series, but I wonder if some reviewer that doesn’t like the story I wrote will find a way to make a connection.
The Merlin in my novel is an alien and he has been around for a long time. He is lonely and wants someone to love. His only friend has been his artificially intelligent spaceship that he calls A-Cappella, and they are hiding on an Earth threatened by climate change. My Merlin has the magical powers of a god, but he can’t use most of those powers because he’s being hunted by a brutal team of AI killing machines. Using his powers to heal Earth might reveal where he is hiding and end up causing the total destruction of Earth and all life on the planet.
Here’s the first paragraph to “Becoming Merlin”, my next novel.
I regretted my part in one of the greatest tragic love stories in human history. It was that look in her eyes that did it, and I felt no guilt when I let myself be seduced by my friend’s future wife. She was fourteen the day Artur and I first saw her. That is when I knew that Guinevere was going to be trouble. She had enchanting eyes, and men of all ages fell under their spell. She hypnotized me too, and I’m not even human.
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