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An Amalgam of Memories

Alexa Kingaard
Alexa Kingaard Author Interview

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.

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Now that Paul O’Brien has returned from serving in Vietnam, he wants nothing more than to piece together a meaningful life. But the war-spawned, guilt-driven nightmares won’t stop haunting him. In an era when veterans refuse to speak of their pain and the government denies that thousands of soldiers are coming home irreparably damaged, Paul is left to deal with the challenge of caring for his family amidst his erratic flashback episodes and moods. As his life unravels from the lingering effects of PTSD, Elizabeth is committed to helping him overcome the obstacles in their path. Determined to live in love, they struggle a lifetime with the burden that Paul brought home. However, in spite of the darkness he carries, he still manages to create a legacy of light, compassion, and understanding that Elizabeth and their children will keep forever.

Old Sins Never Die: An Emmeline Kirby & Gregory Longdon Mystery – Trailer

While in the Lake District, journalist Emmeline Kirby and jewel thief/insurance investigator Gregory Longdon overhear a man attempting to hire international assassin Hugh Carstairs, a MI5 agent who went rogue. They race back to London to warn Philip Acheson of the Foreign Office and Superintendent Oliver Burnell. But it’s a devil of problem to prevent a vicious killing, if the target is a mystery.

More trouble brews as Emmeline pursues a story about shipping magnate Noel Rallis, who is on trial for murder. Rallis is desperate to keep the negative publicity from exposing his illicit schemes, especially something sinister called Poseidon. Lord Desmond Starrett, whose dark past made him easy prey for blackmail, is getting cold feet about their dubious partnership. Hovering in the shadows of this ugly secret world is a Russian mole buried inside MI5. Scorned prima ballerina Anastasia Tarasova makes the fatal mistake of threatening to reveal all she knows. The hunt for the answers takes Emmeline and Gregory up to Scotland, where they learn that the truth has lethal consequences.

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The Vatican Knights – Trailer

While on a visit to the United States, Pope Pius XIII is kidnapped by a terrorist cell calling itself the Soldiers of Islam. If the United States and its allies do not meet their demands, they will execute the pope. So when FBI Specialist Shari Cohen is called to duty to track down the terrorist cell responsible, she learns that she is not alone. Deep behind the Vatican walls a secret order dispatches a clandestine op group of elite commandos known as the Vatican Knights. Their mission: bring the pope back alive. As Cohen and the Knights work in tandem they uncover a White House conspiracy involving high-ranking members on Capitol Hill. When she begins to get too close to the truth about the pope’s kidnapping, she becomes the target of indigenous forces trying to keep the conspiracy safe. However, in order to get to her they must go through the Vatican Knights.

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MONTAGNARD: A JD Cordell Action Thriller – Trailer

Sometimes you have to dance in the minefield …

Navy SEAL, JD Cordell, is ready to retire and take his K9 partner, Ajax, with him. JD has exciting plans for a new life that includes the courageous and beautiful Doctor Ellen Chang he met on a mission in Niger.

But when JD’s father unexpectedly dies of cancer, his grieving mother, Mai, travels to Vietnam to search for her adopted Montagnard brother, a brother she hasn’t seen in over forty years. During her attempt to track him down, Mai unwittingly steps into a blood feud between her Montagnard brother and a powerful Vietnamese drug lord, a bitter hatred that began during the Vietnam War.

When his mother disappears into the seedy underbelly of Ho Chi Minh City, JD has no choice but to come out of retirement for one last explosive mission. And Ajax is with him all the way.

If you liked Serpents Underfoot, you’re going to love Montagnard. Order your copy now!

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Power Without Responsibility

Rick Stepp-Bolling
Rick Stepp-Bolling Author Interview

The Battle for Imperiana follows Meesha and her allies as they uncover a plot to restart another war which threatens Imperiana. What was the inspiration for the setup to this thrilling story?

In the first PATCH MAN book, I explained how the origins of the war between Imperiana and Summia began as a result of depopulation by the developer of the Labyrinth, Julius Gelfson. President Gelfson’s plan to destroy Summia is reminiscent of several of today’s world rulers who think power is the best way to get whatever they want, but power without responsibility, without compassion is simply a threat, and there will always be Meeshas of the world who will confront that threat.

Meesha is an intriguing and well developed character. What were some ideas that guided her character development?

Throughout the first three books of the PATCH MAN series, Meesha grows both chronologically and in her maturity. We see her as a young, one-armed girl in book one who is unflagging in her optimism, but in book two, like many teenagers, she is moody and controlled by her emotions. During these first two books, Var and Zefa, her adopted Father and Mother, guide her character’s development through their unconditional love. In book three, The Battle For Imperiana, she has matured, but her love for Ten becomes her driving force. She is both fiercely independent and emotionally attached, as I suppose many of us are.

I enjoyed the detailed and intricate world you’ve built in your Patch Man series. What were some themes that were important for you to capture in this book?

Two major themes are hard to miss: 1. War is destructive 2. Family can help us overcome adversity in life. Of course there are numerous subthemes as well. Balance is needed in any community if we are to live healthy, productive lives. In the book, this is shown through the loss of technological power and the rise of magical power. The Chunee are a good example of how a people have found balance in their lives. Another subtheme is a warning that children who play computer games all day may not interact well on the human level when they become adults.

This is book three in your Patch Man series. What can readers expect in book four?

Book four and book five have already been written, so I can talk to this question with some insight. Book four is Ulan’s backstory. It describes the forces and events that led her to become an assassin. Book five continues in Summia with Meesha expecting, but events soon have Meesha, Ten, Riata and Ulan thrown into a Doppelganger domain where they meet their opposites in a world no longer covered by desert but by oceans.

Author Links: GoodReads | Twitter | Facebook

With the war in Summia over, Imperiana becomes the new battlefield. Var arrives in Adriat hoping to convince President Gelfson to end his insane attempt to create an army of dead Imperialists and invade Summia to complete his plan of total genocide. Meesha, in an effort to save Ten, travels to Imperiana only to discover Moab has set a diabolical trap for her. Now she must choose between freeing Zefa, her adopted mother, or Ten, the love of her life. One will live and one will die.

Keep Forever

KEEP FOREVER by [Alexa Kingaard]

Keep Forever is a book that will sit with you for a long time and bring to light subjects you hadn’t thought of. The book focuses on two men during the Vietnam War. Paul and Sam. Both wounded in the war and sent home; they have to relearn how to be who they are in a society that didn’t believe in the war. While Paul’s scars are internal and Sam’s are in your face, both men realize that moving on from the war isn’t as easy as they thought it would be. The book also focuses on Sam’s sister and the journey she takes from being a young woman to a woman who has grown and matured while trying to help her family.

As a military veteran’s wife, this hit home, and I cried at some parts, wondering what would have happened if my spouse had been alive during the Vietnam War. I could relate to the characters personally as my husband has PTSD and found myself crying for Sam, Paul, and Sam’s sister Elizabeth when reading everything they had to endure. It seemed like they faced so much adversity and struggle, but life is like that, and it reflected what we all go through.

I liked Sam’s character but felt he didn’t get enough time to fully develop. We can assume he lived a peaceful life and had children who had children, but we never hear what happens to him. We stop hearing about Sam about halfway through, and I did find myself wanting to know more about his life and journey. The only other small issue I had was with the ending which didn’t bring the conclusion I wanted… but I suppose this is a good reflection of life in a way. I could guess the ending before it happened, and had braced myself for it, (though I still burst into tears having felt a connection to the characters and their story), but the last two pages were not a good ending for me.

I do think this book is beautifully written and sheds light on a crucial issue and issues that affect the military. I honestly respect anyone who has ever put on a uniform and feel that the author did the book justice, by how it was written. I just wanted a different ending for the characters, but this was because I genuinely fell in love with them.

Pages: 282 | ASIN: B0863F1WCV

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Montagnard

MONTAGNARD: A JD Cordell Action Thriller (The JD Cordell Action Series Book 2) by [D.C. Gilbert]

Montagnard continues the story of ex Navy SEAL JD Cordell as he tries to put together a new life with his trusty dog and a beautiful woman. But things go awry when his mother travels to Vietnam to search for her adopted brother who has gone missing in Ho Chi Minh City. JD’s mother is caught between two bitter rivals and their dangerous feud. This leaves JD with little choice but to intervene, with explosive results.

Montagnard has all the elements I look for in a good action adventure story. JD Cordell is capable enough, and it’s not a matter of if he can overcome the seemingly insurmountable obstacles in front of him, but how. This is where the novel really shines. JD Cordell is electrifying and easily holds readers interests. I really enjoyed the depth of JD’s character. D.C. Gilbert brings him to life through action and consequences drawn in blood throughout the pages.

Ho Chi Minh City is vividly painted and captures the exotic yet sleazy side of a historic city that is in flux. The action in this novel is relentless and well detailed. The tense story line reminds me of the movie Body of Lies or Jack Ryan. D.C. Gilbert effortlessly blends martial arts, weapons and military tactics that will thrill any military aficionado.

I enjoyed the threads of historical context, and consequences, sprinkled throughout the story as it relates to the Vietnam War and how the Americans pulled out so abruptly leaving so many allies hanging.

D.C. Gilbert has crafted a taught military action novel that explores humanity at it’s most vengeful. This is a thrilling novel that is elevated by intriguing characters in the midst of an exotic location that holds danger around any corner. A great continuation of the JD Cordell Action Series.

Pages: 315 | ASIN: B089QDZMXW

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Into War Games, Into Community, Into the Army

Into war games, into community, into the army (HEARING OTHERS’ VOICES Book 26) by [Christophe Finnegan]

Into War Games, Into Community, Into the Army by Christophe Finnegan is an introspective memoir about how his love for board games in the war/military genre led to the author enlisting in the army. This reflective memoir explores how war games can shape a persons way of thinking, in beneficial ways if one joins the army, but also in other aspects of critical thinking and planning. This book has certainly gave me a different perspective of war games and I see them now as much more than simple games. They create a mindset and fosters skills that include observation, analysis, interpretation, reflection, evaluation, problem solving and decision making. Readers are also treated to a robust description of the community surrounding these war games.

Into War Games, Into Community, Into the Army opens like a novel in the thriller genre, or a suspense story; but when the authors stop arrives, it quickly changes its pacing into a more fun and casual narrative that is equally engaging.

What I enjoyed most about this book was how prevalent the authors passion about the subject is. It is semi-biographical, semi-informational, but completely absorbing. We get to learn about author Christophe Finnegan, what led to him joining the military, his time in the military, the war games community and gaming culture. All this packed within a book that is less than one hundred pages.

The book is packed with information and I found most of it to be very interesting, most of it new to me, but still accessible. I think the reason for the memoirs success is the way in which Christophe Finnegan is able to relate the games community to his own life experiences. It’s in this relationship that this book shines. Christophe Finnegan without war games would not be the same Christophe Finnegan. This is what I take away from this sharp and revealing book.

Into War Games, Into Community, Into the Army is an exceptional memoir of a unique man, living a unique life, that is relatable and thoroughly absorbing.

Pages: 67 | ASIN: B088ZR2B7L

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