In April 1975, as the government in Saigon is falling, Michael Andrews prepares to make his way back to Vietnam to find the love he was forced to leave.
But Michael’s journey begins four years earlier. He joins the Air Force to keep out of the Army and out of Vietnam, but his first assignment is teaching English in Saigon to members of the Vietnamese military in an Army program called Palace Dog.
As an artist, and a man, before his time in Vietnam, Michael found life lonely and unsatisfying. In the midst of war, Michael searches for direction and meaning. He ultimately finds love and hope with Thao, a young Vietnamese art student, only to have their already uncertain future wrenched from them when he is pulled out of the country.
For Michael, his return in 1975 is inevitable and without question, though the outcome he hopes for is anything but assured.
Categories: Gay Fiction, Historical, M/M Romance
R.E. Nelson was born in Texas and raised in Southern California. He has been writing for as long as he can remember. One of his earliest recollections related to writing is winning an essay contest in sixth grade--something patriotic about the American flag. When he travels, his preference is staying in select areas for an extended period of time and learning about that place. He has lived in both Vietnam (twice, actually) and Saudi Arabia, and also spent time in Egypt, South Korea, Shanghai (his only China visit thus far), and Dubai. Now he is happy to call San Francisco home.
Where to find the author:
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Cover Artist: Paul Richmond
The cyclo had bumped across the bridge, following the curve in the road, then moved quickly down the final straight stretch, past houses and shops, past rows of trees and walls and occasional open spaces, past vendors who lined the street’s edge selling gasoline in glass bottles. Motorcycles, Lambretta mini-buses packed with people, cream-and-blue Renault taxis, pedestrians with baskets and boxes—all crowded the street. Noises, smells, and smoke came from everywhere, and as the driver increased his speed, I smiled, gripping the metal frame tighter and pushing slightly with my feet as the moist wind rushed around me.
Speeding through the streets of Saigon, wearing the green Air Force-issued jungle fatigues, my life of a year ago seemed unreal.
http://www.dreamspinnerpress.com/store/product_info.php?products_id=6099 for paperback.
http://www.dreamspinnerpress.com/store/product_info.php?products_id=6098 for ebook
Do you read reviews? How do you deal with the good, the bad, and the ugly?
PALACE DOG is my first published novel, so I haven’t had to deal with reviews until now. Following postings by other writers, I was trying to steel myself not knowing what to expect. The first review was very positive and the reviewer hit on most of the points that were important to me. So after that one, I’ve read most. I would say most have been positive, so that’s been easy. The few that have been less than positive have not upset me as much as I thought they would. One simply wrote, “It’s not worth reading,” but didn’t say why, so I just chalk that up to a general not liking of it. Which is fine. If the negative is really pointed, I just go back and reread the earlier positive reviews and that generally makes me feel better. I try not to let the negative offset the positive. I don’t believe I would try to answer back, even if asked. Hopefully the review will be read by whomever and then settle into history. As a side note, I read a very negative review about a book recently by another author, and it actually made me want to buy the book, which I did. I’m thoroughly enjoying it and plan on writing my own review once I’ve finished.
Do you have an image in your mind of your characters before you start? Do you use photos or character interviews? How do you bring them to life?
In writing PALACE DOG, I definitely had images of characters in my mind because I was writing about a time, place, and experience that was very real to me. In some way, I was a minor character in the book. I taught along side Michael and the others, I went to the same places in Saigon. I probably even hooked up with some of the same guys Michael met. As the story developed, I made sure to distinguish between the fictional characters of Michael, Randy, Richard, Danny and Thao from those who were actually there with me. I didn’t want to tell someone else’s story or even my own. But I wanted it to be grounded in the reality of being there. I used photographs I had taken there, music I had heard there, and an annotated pocket calendar I had kept to keep the facts of being there on track. As the story continued, the fictional characters came to life. But even so, I recall my pleasant surprise when the book artist, Paul Richmond, sent me the early drawings of the cover. It was then that Michael became real to me.
What's the process of your writing?
A lot of my writing is spent not writing. A story comes to me, sometimes only a character, or a situation, or a series of situations. It’s a start. And generally once I start writing it, the framework is starting. I carry the story with me after that, no matter where I am or what I’m doing. I make notes, capture scenes as best I can (sometimes with only a word or two), and then sit down to formalize it. It changes of course, once the real writing starts. But even so, I find myself thinking of scenes I have already written or that are coming up throughout the day and the night, and often go to sleep (or try to) and wake up thinking them out. The writing itself often comes in spurts. Once I have the complete story, I rewrite it. I love the revision process. And then I share it with one or two friends when it’s ready, and get their feedback. Generally I’m looking for insight to particular scenes to see if they work for the reader as well as they work for me. If not, then I go through further revision.
Do you find the sex scenes easy or hard to write?
I don’t find sex scenes difficult to write. But I want them to be meaningful within the story. Generally, I find sex, one way or another, the primary motivation for just about everything. And it is that link and then writing it out that is most interesting to me, especially when it works. There has to be balance, too. In PALACE DOG, originally I had written very little about the first sexual experience between Michael and Thao. In revisions, that scene went from about a half page to five or six with much more detail (which was very satisfying to write out). That was too much, so I ended up paring back, but that was in the interest of the story.
Is there a character in any of your books that you didn't plan on—a character who forced their way into the story?
This occasionally happens. In PALACE DOG, it was that way with a minor character, Danny. I hadn’t expected him to be there, but he was. And it worked. In the book I’m currently writing (working title of SUMMER OF LOVE), I awoke one morning with a new character asserting himself in my consciousness. I had actually dreamed him. And he was insisting I put him in. So after some initial reluctance, I gave in and now he is a key character.
When you finish writing a book, how do you say goodbye to the characters?
I don’t really say goodbye to any of my characters when I finish a book. I look at them as still there, still playing out their parts in whatever story it is. Now that PALACE DOG is published, it would not be easy to make any changes, even minor ones. But I don’t feel I’ve said goodbye to any of them. They may resurface again in other stories, but they are still holding their own in that story.
When you writer’s block strikes, how do you get unstuck?
With so many things going on in life, the difficulty of finding the time to sit down and actually write can be a challenge. Having write’s block doesn’t help. But for me, a lot of my writing does not involve actually writing. Mentally, I’m always in the story I’m writing—no matter where I am or what else I am doing. So not being able to actually sit down and write a particular situation out that isn’t ready to be written does not really bother me. I see it as a natural part of the process. But I keep it in mind, play variations of it over and over, ask myself why it isn’t coming or if I should consider something differently, and eventually it works out. I generally feel that there was a valid reason for the delay, even though it may not be apparent at the time.
Are your friends and family supportive of your writing?
My friends and family have been most supportive, even during the long period of not publishing. Several close friends have been writers (their success came early) and we’ve always shared the connection with writing and publishing and the joys and frustrations that can come from it.
What are you working on next?
I’m currently working on what may turn out to be a trilogy involving the coming of age/coming out/moving on of a central character. The series is tentatively called CONNECTING THE DOTS. The novel SUMMER OF LOVE, set in the late 1960’s-early 1970’ is the first part; A PARK IN RIYADH, about sex and love in Saudi Arabia in the middle-to-late 1970’s is the second; and CONNECTING THE DOTS, will be the third, ending in the present day. But this is all subject to change, as usual!
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