The Dark Side of Heaven – one Vietnam pilot’s perspective on the atrocities of war

What does it take to erase memories of the atrocities of war? Many a veteran of conflict struggle with this question. Through withdrawal, social faux paux, story telling or even failed self-medication with mind altering substances they attempt to numb the horrific images, sounds, nightmares, panic attacks, moral questioning paranoia and psychoses as survivors of war.  Welcome to the world of post-traumatic stress disorder.

Our Vietnam veterans attempt to cope with this each and every day. They celebrate their successes in reunions and camaraderie, but for some, when they return home and are alone in their private thoughts, the negative thoughts return. Like an incessant, never-ending trauma.

A-4 Skyhawk

Marine A-4 Skyhawk

In 2012, I had the fortuitous luck to come upon a pilot’s manuscript called ETERNALLY AT WAR while researching the Vietnam Center and Archives at Texas Tech University.  From its first pages, I was captivated. Captain Robert “Gene” Lathrop was a Marine pilot for VMA 311 out of Chu Lai. He was writing about the base and USO club I wanted to feature, Chu Lai and was also writing about the air war in Vietnam.  He flew the McDonnell Douglas A-4 Skyhawk. The plane I wanted to write about. What luck!

Who knew that graduate students had taken scads of oral histories recorded, photographs, manuscripts, and memorabilia and converted them to digital medium for preservation. The Vietnam Center at TTU was a goldmine! How awesome that the intimate details of this controversial war were being preserved! As a Red Raider alum, I had no idea this even existed! Way to go Big Red!!

Using some sleuth techniques, I was able to track down Gene’s address in Washington. After thoroughly devouring his manuscript, I was anxious to speak to him about its content. I reached his wife who informed that sadly, Gene had passed away only months before. I was heartbroken. I explained that I was a writer and what I wished to do with the material. After some thought, she graciously granted me the rights to utilize some of his stories for my historical fiction novel SOLO VIETNAM.

As I was crafting SOLO VIETNAM, I propped Gene’s picture up next to the computer. It was like we were penning it together. I felt honored to be in his world and indeed his presence. SOLO VIETNAM featured many of Gene’s missions which were weaved into my feature character, a Navy pilot with VA 153 off the USS Coral Sea CVA-43 WestPac cruise of 1967-68.  SOLO VIETNAM was awarded the silver medal by the Military Writer’s Association, featured at Tailhook 2014 by the A-4 Skyhawk Association, and won fourth place in the Readers’ Favorite 2014 book awards. Gene would have been so proud.

picture of pilot Robert Gene Lathrop

Captain Robert “Gene” Lathrop

After reviewing the books, his wife asked if I would turn his entire manuscript into a memoir. I was honored and said “YES!!”  During the research for ETERNALLY AT WAR’s production, we discussed including how post-traumatic stress disorder greatly affected many of the veterans returning from Vietnam. She revealed how it had impacted Gene some ten years after his return. How initially, no one knew what it was. Gene’s sister related how many family members and friends would politely smile, yet roll their eyes, tired of his repeated stories. She requested that I cover that in the book, as a message to others. Again, I was humbled to be challenged with the task.

But Gene sent me an internal message from above. He had a better idea. Going back into the archive, I discovered that the graduate students had been very busy beavers indeed. There now were several documents in the archive, including a manuscript of Gene’s poems and an oral transcript. His family was thrilled. It was amazing to hear his voice.

Although I continue to work on ETERNALLY AT WAR, I am pleased to announce that Gene’s other book, a collection of poems written about his experiences flying in Vietnam, the conflict, and the aftermath will be released in time for Christmas 2015!!!!  It is called THE DARK SIDE OF HEAVEN. So make your plans now to reserve a copy of the beautiful collection of prose, photography, and pen and ink drawings depicting the Vietnam conflict and its aftermath to be published by AgeView Press.

pastel portrait of Robert Gene Lathrop

Gene Lathrop, USMC retired pastel painting by Susan Hirst

I feel strongly that Gene is dancing a jig to know that his words will find meaning in the comrades, friends, and families of Vietnam veterans affected by the perils of PTSD. He believed the required acts delegated to servicemen during war inflicted a moral bankruptcy which threatened their psyche and well being upon their return.  Thus provoking PTSD.

Enjoy an excerpt, indeed the title poem from the upcoming release THE DARK SIDE OF HEAVEN.

THE DARK SIDE OF HEAVEN

It’s two in the morning here comes the fire.

They’re still shooting low, but they’ll walk it up higher.

I’m on bearing to target, ten thousand to go.

“Roger, I copy, turning left three five oh.”

Out to the east, orange balls of flame

Are bursting right now, from where we just came

I’m approaching the target, five thousand to go

“Roger, I copy, fifteen knots slow.”

Only three thousand meters, and I’ll be headin’ back

For a shot of French cognac, and some time in the rack.

I feel a big buck and six eggs for free,

I’m clearing the target, heading east to the sea.”

Once clear of the target, I’ll fly just offshore

Heading south to recovery and just watch the war.

I’m totally drained and this planes not the best.

“This is Hellborne, Vice Squad; keep me clear to the nest.”

Look, there is a Spooky, a spittin’ out lead

to the west of Dong Ha, the ground will be red.

There’s a fire near that Base, it’s at three o’clock

“I see it, Vice Squad, it’s that big floating dock.

I’m coming up on the lights of the city of Hue

‘Twas overrun during Tet; taken back during May

That big flash at twelve, is the Jersey at play

“I’ve got her, Vice Squad, her salvo’s away

All those lights off to starboard are at Danang

Where the bomb dumps went up with a helluva bang

Those tracers at one are at little Ho’ An

“Chu Lai’s under fire; we’ll land if we can.”

I get so damned tired, flying three hops a day

I just get numb, that’s all I can say

The base is secure; no more enemy fire

“I’m coming in approach, and takin’ a wire.

There’s flares on final, but I’ve made the decision

 I’ll be going in hook down, without my night vision.

 If Hades was the earth and with firepits in the sky

 The center of Hell would be at Chu Lai.

I’ve got three down & locked, and dropping the hook

 I’ll be takin’ the wire, just like in a book.

The arrest was just perfect, I’m so good it’s a sin.

“What the hell do you mean? You got rockets comin in.”

The rockets are comin like a spew from a fount

But on the Dark Side of Heaven such matters don’t count.

 I’m back in the deck and out of the sky

It’s a hell of a home, but it’s ours at Chu Lai.

Written by Captain Robert “Gene” Lathrop, UMSC during treatment for PTSD on Ward 7A, VAMC American Lake, 1987

 

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Aerial ballet over South Louisiana

Tom Burdick in cockpit of his crop duster

“”We are not the wild, whiskey-drinking daredevils that onlookers might perceive us to be,” says Tom Burdick, a pilot who’’s dodged bullets while flying.”

At the crack of dawn, before most of us are up and going, there is a ballet being performed in the skies. Tom Burdick is a special type of pilot. He dances amidst the clouds flying high, winging over and swooping down from the heavens over southern Louisiana. He and his team crop dust the plantations that are featured in the FLYING SOLO series of books, which I have written for AgeView Press. Not only can he fly, he can write. Burdick has served as my technical consultant for the crop dusting passages in SOLO VIETNAM. In addition, he contributed to the dramatic plane crash sequence in WAITING IN THE WINGS. His heart and soul is flying and that’s what comes through in his desciptions of soaring through the heights.  He once told me that he’s never happier than when flying.  He described it as his lifeblood.  I am elated and honored to call him not only a colleague, but a dear friend. Enjoy this article about Tom published some time ago in the Baton Rouge Business Journal.

Original Article and Photos By: Chuck Hustmyre published Nov 30, 2007 at 6:00 am. (Updated May 4, 2012)

Tom Burdick swoops in fast and low, the wheels of his airplane almost brushing the tops of the trees standing along the edge of the field. He levels the wings and dips the bright yellow nose toward the ground. He’s zooming in at 130 mph, with the afternoon sun behind him. From the ground, Burdick looks like he’s lining up for a strafing run as he aims the sleek, single-engine propeller-driven plane at a field.

In a sense Burdick is making a strafing run, although it’s not a line of enemy planes he’s attacking, but a row of crops. From a height of only eight feet, he triggers the release of the plane’s payload, and a line of nozzles along the trailing edge of the wing spews an aerosol cloud that swirls in the wake of his prop wash. Burdick roars across the field in seconds. He pulls back on the control stick and rockets skyward. At the top of his climb, he kicks the rudder over and banks into a steep turn, setting himself up for another diving pass at the field.

In the business, he’s known as an A.G.—an agriculture pilot. His munitions of choice aren’t bombs or bullets, but pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers. Not that he hasn’t seen a few bullets. “I was shot at once,” he says. “I found two holes—one in the tail and one in the wing.”

Tom reading FLYING SOLO

Taking a break with a great book!

Burdick, a 62-year-old, who although is short in stature, stands tall, exudes quiet confidence.. He started flying right out of high school, paying for his pilot training by working the flight line at an airport in his hometown of Madison, Wis. As a newly winged commuter pilot, Burdick flew VIPs around Wisconsin, including the governor on a campaign tour. Later, he spent four years as an air traffic controller at the hyperkinetic Los Angeles Center in Palmdale, Calif., directing commercial jets and other aircraft over central California and northern Mexico. Burdick lost that job when the air traffic controllers’ union staged a walkout in 1981, a move that prompted President Ronald Reagan to fire all the strikers.Fortunately, a crop duster training school in Casa Grande, Ariz., 460 miles away, was accepting new students. “I rode my motorcycle from Palmdale to Casa Grande in the middle of the night,” Burdick recalls. During the ride he hit a patch of black ice with his Kawasaki 550 and went down, knocking off his windshield. He froze for the rest of the trip. “It was so cold my face was stuck.” At crop duster school Burdick met a guy from Louisiana looking to hire an ag pilot, so in February 1982, he packed up what few belongings he had and moved to South Louisiana. He’s been here ever since.

The next Aerial Crop Care pilot.

The next Aerial Crop Care pilot.

For the full text article, you can see it here.

Tom Burdick is pretty basic – and that is how he started his company. Aerial Crop Care, which began with only one pilot, Tom, now boasts an annual revenue upwards of 1.2 million.  His team of five pilots fly Air Tractor AT-502 crop dusters, which are impressive machines that cost upwards of $800,000. The sleek, long-nosed, low-wing planes pack a 750-horsepower propeller-driven turbine engine that runs on jet fuel. They top out at about 150 mph and has a 500-gallon hopper built into the nose to hold chemicals or seeds. In addition, they founded Mosquito Squad, a company which combats mosquito invasion.  Tom was instrumental in the design of the state of the art plane used to combat the pests. But Tom Burdick’s only love isn’t flying.  He is the proud parent of two grown children and grandpa to a precoscious two year old pilot-in-training.  During National Aviation Week, AgeView Press is proud to recognize and salute this outstanding professional in the skies!

Do Amazon and Createspace rip us off? The update.

It’s has been several months since first publishing and republishing the story about Amazon and Createspace failing to report accurate sales.  It’s absolutely evil.   Here is what has been learned.

It's almost evil!

It’s almost evil!

Hundreds of authors contacted me regarding the inability to see their sales, especially from expanded distribution channels.   The story has been blogged and tweeted.  One author, on the grounds she stay anonymous, as her book was just picked up by one of the “Big Six” and she feared be dropped, told me that over 500 of her books sales never showed.AgeView Press was contacted by the Vice-President of Customer Service at Createspace, George  X ecr@createspace.com  who explained that he takes customer concerns very personally.  He pulled up my account for my latest book SOLO VIETNAM.   Now, I know for a fact that since it was published, April 2013 that at least ten friends have ordered it from Barnes and Noble and other retailers, which should have shown up on CreateSpace’s records as expanded distribution orders from Ingram.   Mr. X kindly shared with me that I had shown one sale from Expanded Distribution.  When asked where that was from?  He was not allowed to provide me that information.    Yet, he could see it from Ingram.

It get’s better.  This time, I chose not to go with KDP select.  I never saw the increased sales following the 4,000 free downloads of my award winning novel FLYING SOLO.  Not even after hawking it with KindleMojo, World Literary Cafe and anywhere I could get the info out there.   Never saw them.   I sold very few books with KDP select.  So this time, I decided to expand my ebook availablity by having in in multiple formats, Kindle, Nook, ebook and ibook via BookBaby.

The jury is out.   Scads of folks have downloaded the book in various formats, many writing reviews.    Yet, to date I show zero sales on BookBaby.   Now, to be fair, their policy is that after a sale is made in particular month, it can take up to 60 days after that month closes for them to report the sales from their distribution.   Seriously people?    Sixty freaking days?  Dont’ we live in an electronic world?   Are these retailers like Kobo, Itunes ibook, Barnes and Noble using the Pony Express?

What the heck?   <—-please insert selected four letter vulgarity here!

As an Indie author and owner of a small press, I find this completely outrageous.  How can one possibly track the availability of their marketing?   Last year, I sold more books hawking them myself via book signings and the Texas Author Book program and made more for each copy.  The problem?   And authors, you will just love this one, the numbers of books you order yourself from CreateSpace do not count as sales!    Yet, when big publishers order 10,000 copies of a new release for distribution, that book is automatically put on the New York Times best sellers list!

Again. . . what the heck?  No that one deserves fuckity-fuck, fuck, FUCK!!!

The morale of the story?   Authors you better love what you do.   Have a great time writing your Indie books, going to book signings and enjoying your fifteen minutes of fame.    Because unless you are born under a lucky star, you are barely going to break even.

What’s sad is that because of the desire to become famous, small press and Indie press have seen waves of authors turn to the dark side.   Vampires were hot, so they wrote that.   Bondage was hotter with 50 Shades of Grey, so they wrote that.    There are literally hundreds of thousands of poorly written books which overshadow quality Indie writing that get’s literally lost in the sea of Indie wannabes.    What’s an author to do?

1.  Keep complaining to CreatSpace to show your immediate electronic and expanded distribution sales

2.  Join forces with reputable Independent Press organizations like Independent Author’s Network, Readers Alliance and Book Your Next Read #BYNR.

3.  Follow Jonathan Gunson‘s tips for Indie author success.   Follow book bloggers.   Make thoughtful posts on their blogs.  Gain their trust.   Then ask for a review.

4.  Before you tweet a random book, READ IT!   Dont recommend books that are off your brand, poorly written crap.   Save your tweets for worthy words.

5.  Keep your network of solid, proven Indie Authors tight.   Communicate and unite.   Network and promo them.   Attend worthy writer’s conferences like Lexicon. You’ll be amazed.   By paying it foward, your returns will be rich.

A lawyer, David Berke has contacted AgeView Press about joining forces with other authors to draw publicity to this dilemma.   The Associated Press contacted AgeView Press, but the journalist, Hillel Italie, HillelHItalie@ap.org  never followed up on the story.   It continues to happen.   To me and to many other authors.  Please email this reporter and let them know this is NOT an isolated incident.

We keep the faith.   Continue to try and stay positive in the marketplace.   And most of all. . . write because we love doing it!    Please feel free to SHARE and reblog this post.   Grassroots efforts really do result in action.   Just ask President Obama!

Boomer Lit Blog Hop – a new genre of books

There is a new boom for us baby boomers and that boom is Boomer LIt.   Books that relate to those of us 50 and beyond.   Great stories about our times.  There are blogs about it.  Goodreads sites.  Facebook pages.   Us Babyboomers are a force to be reckoned with. As such, I am delighted to participate in a blog hop to give you such a taste!  Here is an excerpt from my upcoming release Solo Vietnam.   A sequel to Flying Solo which involves a baby being born into this time frame.  Solo Vietnam continues that story into the most controversial war ever.  A French Cajun aviatrix.  An A-4 Skyhawk pilot.  Vietnam. Enjoy Solo Vietnam!

Solo Vietnam Cover

Available April 2013 from AgeView Press

As she walked the few blocks from the olive colored streetcar, which dropped her off at Carrollton and Birch, she thought about everything she had been through. The illicit affair with the love of her life, her pilot instructor, Steve Novak. Their crazy temporary living arrangement, where she served as caregiver to his sickly wife, Marci.    Their star crossed love affair, which had produced her baby daughter, now living in Texas somewhere.  The ill-fated goodbye on the steps of the train station in downtown Dallas. It was a time from which Nora thought she could never recover.  And yet, here she was; a sultry, moderately popular, New Orleans night singer, a pilot, and a woman with her own place, freedom, and independence.

Her children, now ranging in age from eleven to seventeen were all teenagers.  Well, all but one, Iggy.  Her lone son, the youngest, was a precocious, pre-pubescent teen.  For the briefest moment, she reminded herself that he was not the youngest.  That would be the baby she gave away, now age five.  Ugh, too painful.  No.  She would not think about that at all.  Mardi Gras was over.  Time for lent.

Ready to take on the commotion of getting the children off to school, Nora creaked open the black-faced wrought iron gate to her home.  As she climbed the five stairs up to the raised, single floor duplex, she could tell something was amiss.  The normal chaos of the early morning was frenetic.

Cathy, already dressed in her long, navy blue, wool uniform shirt and white blouse slammed open the front filigree screen door.   “Thank goodness you are finally home.  Kayce’s gone!” she exclaimed.

“Kayce’s gone?  Whatever do you mean?”  Nora queried.

“She’s gone.  Kaput.”  Cathy histrionically bellowed.

As Nora entered the parlor, Leisel bounded in.  “Yep. Cathy’s right, Mama.  Kayce is missing.  She musta left before we even got up,” she hurriedly explained.

Nora dropped the two grocery bags she was carrying and clambered back to the girls’ shared bedroom.  Then, she checked the bathroom off the middle bedroom and the kitchen.  Kayce was nowhere to be found.    Opening the back screen porch door, she scanned the red brick patio surrounded by azalea bushes and large backyard with its towering oak trees.  Nothing.  No trace of her.

Iggy, who had followed Nora into the kitchen, noted a hand-written card propped next to Nora’s coffee pot on the stove.  Nora could tell it was Kayce’s handwriting.  It simply read,

Mother.  I’ve tired of the calamity of your life and your choices.  I have

gone to seek my own life and happiness. I am against the war, the

establishment and especially you.  I have left the pain of New

Orleans forever.  You can find me and my people in Haight-Ashbury.

“Oh my God.  Christ almighty.  Kayce has run off to be a flower-child,” Nora rolled her eyes.   “Good Lord.”

This Boomer Lit book is coming out this month, April 2013 from AgeView Press!  The best selling, 5 star rated Flying Solo is already out in print, ebook and Kindle.  Hop on over to some of the other great boomer lit books!

books available from jeanette vaughan flying solo and solo vietnam

Books Available from Jeanette Vaughan

The Next Best Thing? SOLO VIETNAM

SOLO VIETNAM an A-4 Skyhawk cats off the deck of the USS Coral Sea

Ready, set, go . . into the Vietnam war zone.

Welcome to the blog hop.   This is an event where author’s showcase their next projects.   This bloghop The Next Best Thing  was created by Gail M Baugniet and what a success it is to behold.  My books were nominated by several colleagues from the Lexicon Writer’s Group, namely Evelyn M Byrne.  You can find out about them by clicking here.    The founder of this blog hop is an Indie Writer herself.  So here we go, hopping along with the Ten Interview Questions for The Next Big Thing:

1. What is the working title of your book?   SOLO VIETNAM  and it’s not the working title.  It is THE title.  Says it all about the story as the sequel to FLYING SOLO.

2. Where did the idea come from for the book? So many people have asked me what happens next to the characters in FLYING SOLO.  Do Nora and Steve ever see each again?   What happened to the baby?    The book ended in a cliff hanger of sorts.  Lots of unanswered questions.   SOLO VIETNAM takes the on a bizarre journey, to the war zone of the Tet Offensive of the Vietnam War.   Action, flying, intrigue, passion, and drama are all part of SOLO VIETNAM.    Find out what happens next to our aviators.

3. What genre does your book fall under? Definitely historical fiction.  It is set during the years of 1967 to 1968.

4. Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition? In the movie rendition, a great lead for Nora would definitely be Natalie Portman or Selma Hayek.  But they have to be able to sing with a voice like spun sugar!    For the gorgeous male pilot, Steve could be Jude Law, Matt Damon or Leonardo DiCaprio.

5. What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book? Can lost love be found in a war zone?

6. Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency? I am definitely going Indie again with the small, quirky publishing company that published FLYING SOLO.   Their name is AgeView Press.   They are always looking to highlight fresh new writers with a voice.   I love Indie.   It is changing the world.   Forget the Big Six!  Indie rocks!!

7. How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?  The first draft takes me about six months.  But it is the careful rewrites where the nuances and texture come alive.   Edit, edit, edit!!

8. What other books would you compare this story to within your genre? This is definitely not a romance for sure, this is pure drama in a classic time period.   So I would have to say,  Rampant RaiderIn Love and War,  and Flying Through Midnight.

9. Who or What inspired you to write thisbook? Definitely the men and women who served side by side in Vietnam – they are the unsung heroes whose stories need to be told this the young generation.

Unsung heros of the air

10. What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest? In my books, I take the reader there.  Sights, sounds, feelings.  They will feel like they were transported back to 1967 amidst war protestors at Haight Ashbury, midtown New Orleans, and of course the jungles, beaches, and skies of the Vietnam War.   They’ll be right there trapping on the carrier deck of the USS Coral Sea,  dodging surface to air missiles with Steve in the cockpit of his A-4 Skyhawk.   It is a page turner for sure.

And as is the custom, here are  5 great readers that you will want to follow in the blog hop:

Amy Gallagher

  JE Pendleton

Ken Farmer and Buck Steinke

TC Miller

 Mitch Haynes

 

Enjoy the blog hop as it hops along to find great writers for readers just like you!