An Amalgam of Memories
Posted by Literary Titan
Keep Forever follows a Vietnam veteran who struggles with PTSD as he tries to piece together a meaningful life. This is a novel based on a true story. What is the origins of the story?
Anyone who was a teenager in the 60s’ and 70s’ has Vietnam firmly embedded in their history. It’s the story of my generation, and many of my girlfriends married veterans either right out of high school or when the men returned. Women played a part in-country, mostly as nurses and unsung heroines, but overall, it was a war fought by middle and lower class males, those who were not college bound or who were unable to get a deferment. As with every conflict, combat veterans are plagued with mental and physical burdens upon their return home, but none were vilified like the young men and women who fought in Vietnam. It stained their psyches, and many passed it down to their children – the second generation to suffer the effects of the most unpopular war in our country’s history. Wives were kept in the dark, the VA was not established until the late 80s’, and PTSD didn’t have a name. Aftercare was minimal, and many kept their unseen wounds bottled up for decades.
I fell in love with a Vietnam veteran in 1969, nine months after he came home. This guy, and many like him, were just kids. Surfing and attending community college one day, picking up a machine gun and participating in a bloody fight for their lives the next. We married almost a decade later, had two children, and divorced after eleven years. But there was always that link that never faded and a lot of guilt that I carried because I didn’t have the insight to deal with or understand PTSD at the time.
September 27, 2011 – My veteran and I had become close again and spent almost all our free time together. His health was failing, he suffered from depression, but it had become less intense and on this day he was at the top of his game. We were returning from a coffee date in the Village about a mile away from his home. As I waited at the bottom of the hill to make a left turn a half a block away from our destination, we were rear-ended by a vehicle twice as heavy as mine, going 45 miles an hour. Physically, we were not hurt. My car sustained $6,000 worth of damage. The impact of the collision triggered a PTSD episode in my veteran. Seventeen days later, on October 13th, he committed suicide.
The only way I found to cope with mine and our children’s grief was to write about the oppressive, lifelong burden he brought home and the collateral damage he left in his wake. At sixty-eight years old, I became a writer, but it was not a vanity project. Rather, it was an inspiration to share my story and honor all Vietnam veterans with a love story based on fact. I am not the only wife, and our children are not the only youngsters that live daily with the unseen wounds of a family member who suffers a lifetime with the memories and guilt of their participation in war. The other day, I saw a very potent cartoon on Facebook, posted by a Vietnam veteran. A soldier, rifle slung over his shoulder, head down and staring at the Vietnam Wall. At the top of the page, the caption read, “When was the last time you were in Vietnam?” At the bottom of the page, the caption read “Last night……”
What were some aspects of the novel that you fictionalized and what were some aspects you stuck close to the facts?
When I started stringing the beginning, middle and end together in my head, I knew I had to place the two main characters, Paul and Elizabeth, in a position that would make their love story believable. I had never written or published anything prior to this endeavor, so I drafted it in my head before I ever put pen to paper. While the story was inspired by the life I shared with my veteran and our children, it became my mea culpa, my deepest apology for not understanding the gravity of PTSD and making choices that were unwise over the course of our history. The childhood years of Paul and Elizabeth are pure fiction compared to mine and my Veteran, but I felt the need to structure their early losses, weave them into the storyline and create a common thread for making their attraction to one another a natural evolution of their friendship.
I did create the character and personality of Paul in the image of my Veteran, but Elizabeth, I have to admit, was created from the perspective of what I learned and dealt with after my veteran took his life. She was a better version of me, but also a reflection of most wives who live with and love Vietnam veterans.
The anguish depicted in difficult, heartbreaking scenes was real, even though some were embellished for better or worse. My veteran was kind and funny, never a harsh word for anyone, but was also a hoarder. He truly did resemble Santa Claus at the end of his life, with an extra fifty pounds that added a cumbersome gait to his 5’8″ frame, thick white hair grown to shoulder length, and a long beard he rarely trimmed. He carried a duffle bag with him just to get coffee or go to a movie, adored our children, and had a host of idiosyncrasies that were as endearing as they were frustrating. Both my Veteran and the character, Paul, received purple hearts and suffered from PTSD. The suicide attempt and subsequent hospitalization were factual, along with many other descriptions of their home, and surroundings. Truth and fiction were interwoven throughout the second half of the novel, although out of context in some instances. The most important reality to me was the ice cream cone with Elizabeth’s name…yes, there really was an ice cream cone with my name on it, which I still have in a Tupperware container after thirty years. My veteran, I discovered when I sifted through his accumulation of inanimate objects, had never thrown it out. That one item was the inspiration for the title, KEEP FOREVER, as we are an amalgam of memories, good and bad, that linger, remind, soothe and terrify all of us throughout our lives. As in the book, my Veteran scrawled the words, “Keep 4Ever” on everything from taxes and bank statements, to Christmas cards and shopping lists. Nothing was ever thrown out…certainly not his memories.
Paul’s death was the most important chapter that I wrote. It was difficult to re-live, but it purged my soul because I got to change history. It was my novel, my story, and I could make any ending I wanted, so I strayed from the truth in the manner in which he died; however, I drew on the experience of my Veteran’s funeral to describe the pomp and circumstance and the emotional good-bye to a member of a military family that is laid to rest in a National cemetery. I hope this bittersweet story helps to convey the sacrifices of all our veterans, especially those who served in Vietnam, and reminds readers that not all wounds are visible.
I thought this book was an emotional story. What were some themes that were important for you to focus on?
In my mind, and in speaking with many Vietnam veterans that I know personally, collateral damage to wives and children was a topic that had not been explored in a historical, Vietnam-era story. Most are memoirs of service members in battle, and written from the point of view of one person. I tried to capture the roller-coaster that exists with all family members, from birth through adulthood, in an effort to highlight how the internal battle of a veteran affects the entire family unit. I also wanted to make the point that most veterans refuse to speak of their pain, and what they keep bottled up inside is the most damaging to themselves and their loved ones.
What is the next book that you are working on and when will it be available?
This is the 2nd edition of KEEP FOREVER, and a deeper version than my first that was self-published in Feburuary, 2018. In between then and the re-release in March, 2020, I wrote and published MY NAME IS ROSE, another nostalgic story, about a young girl raised in a commune during the 1970s’. It has become an Amazon #1 Best Seller, as well as a first-place winner in an International Book Competition in 2019. KEEP FOREVER also topped the Amazon Charts soon after the second release, with #1 spots in New Releases, Vietnam War History, 1960s’ History of the US, and 1960s’ American History.
During my first nine weeks of quarantine, I completed the first draft of my third novel, MIRACLE. And yes, another piece of nostalgia, which seems to be what I am drawn to. The story revolves around two young women in the 1950s’. One lives in Southern California and must come to terms with the fact that four unsuccessful pregnancies leaves adoption as the only option for herself and her husband. The inability to qualify with the adoption agency due to their advancing age – almost thirty was old in the 50s’ – steers them towards an alternative solution of adopting a child outside the United States. During this time, the Canadian government created maternity homes for young women who were without a spouse or family assistance. After giving birth, it was understood that they would leave their baby behind for adoption by a suitable couple. The second young lady finds herself in a position that demands she reside in one of these homes for the last part of her pregnancy as she agonizes about the ultimate sacrifice she is being forced to make. Ultimately, these two women are destined to connect, but the ending is not as one might suspect. I hope to have MIRACLE ready for publication by mid-2021.
About Literary TitanThe Literary Titan is an organization of professional editors, writers, and professors that have a passion for the written word. We review fiction and non-fiction books in many different genres, as well as conduct author interviews, and recognize talented authors with our Literary Book Award. We are privileged to work with so many creative authors around the globe.
Posted on September 13, 2020, in Interviews and tagged Alexa Kingaard, author, book, book review, bookblogger, ebook, family, fantasy, father, fiction, goodreads, historical, KEEP FOREVER, kindle, kobo, literature, military, nook, novel, ptsd, read, reader, reading, story, veteran, war, writer, writing. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.
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