Monday, January 11, 2010

What I Learned in Vietnam

by Catherine West

Many years ago, an idea for a story came to me.
Why it did, I'm not sure. But it took hold and hasn't let go yet.
About a hundred revisions later, I completed a manuscript called Yesterday's Tomorrow. It takes place in Vietnam, during the war.
It has not yet found a publisher, but I have hope. Perhaps then I will understand why I wrote this book and where it came from.

I was too young to remember the Vietnam War being fought. Living in Bermuda, I'm sure my parents didn't get as much news as they would have today with the Internet. Although I don't remember it, there is something about that time in history that draws me.
I have never been to Vietnam.
But as I wrote this story, I lived there.
As I read the stories of those brave men and women who were in the thick of it and survived, I went there with them.

Writing this book took months of research. I didn't want to bog down the story with details about the war or the country, but I couldn't just make stuff up. I've never been a historical writer so I was almost dreading the work I had ahead of me, but I knew if I wanted my book to be authentic, it was something I had to do.
When I finished writing this story, I was a changed person.
Why? Because until then, I had no idea what war was all about.
War to me, was a faraway concept. Something I would certainly never have to face or deal with firsthand.
While that is still true and I pray it stays so, I have a far better understanding of it now. And I think that is a good thing.
I remember getting to a point in my story and having to stop, pull away. I even questioned whether I should continue writing it.
Somehow I felt as though I was stepping on holy ground.
But with the encouragement of others, I pressed on.
They say Vietnam gets into your soul.
It does.
Those who were there and came back will never be the same.
War does that to a person.

I learned that even after thirty-five years, there are things you just don't talk about.
After thirty-five years, the pain doesn't end. Maybe it lessens a bit, but it never goes away entirely.
I am not sure a writer can ever capture that kind of truth in the way it needs to be told.
I don't know that one can ever accurately portray the fear of being in a helicopter heading for a hot zone or wading through a dark stinky swamp with no idea who might be hiding in the depths of that jungle. How can you describe what it must be like to watch a friend die in your arms?

But we can try. And I believe we should try.
Because all these things-the horrors of war, the deep bond created between those who served there, and the ultimate sacrifice so many made-should never be forgotten.

Although my book is a work of fiction, if it does get picked up one day, I hope it serves a higher purpose.
I learned much through the writing of this book. Things that will stick with me for a long time. Perhaps forever.
And I'm glad I did it.

I came away from this project with this question: Do we write merely to entertain? Or do we write to enlighten, educate and encourage our readers to examine their hearts on matters they may have previously ignored?
I'm hoping to be able to do both.
How about you?

"Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends." John 15:13
That's what I learned in Vietnam.

Catherine West writes contemporary romance and women's fiction. She enjoys life on Bermuda with her husband, two almost grown children, and one rambunctious Border Collie. When she's not writing you can find her in the garden or out on the Agility course, pretending she knows what she's doing!
Catherine's work is represented by Rachelle Gardner of Wordserve Literary. You can check in with her anytime at her blog. New Website Coming Soon!


  1. I'm with you girl! What is the what of a book, the Moral Premise. Great book to read, btw.

    Come over to my blog and leave a comment sometime!!


  2. I look forward to reading your book, Catherine. I too have a Viet Nam story in the back of my mind, but I'm not sure I'll ever have the courage or the depth of understanding to write it. That period still has much to teach us.

  3. Super blog, Catherine. I hope your book finds a home soon.

    Funny you should ask whether we write merely to entertain. I'm reading Cure for the Common Life by Max Lucado and in the first chapter he says that God endows us with gifts so that we can make Him known. So whatever gift God has given me in the realm of entertaining readers with a story, I pray that God will use it make Himself known.

    Best wishes

    Ruth Ann

  4. Catherine, writing this book may have already done some of God's purpose, by how it affected you. Wow, it sounds so moving. Good luck with finding a publisher!

  5. Another good blog Cathy. I would like to know when your Vietnam is published. I grew up with what war did to my Grandfather who was twice decorated for bravery during WWI.

    I think all good writing does more than entertain.

    I feel however that fiction which I largely read for entertainment, is valuable for its ability to 'distract'.

    Life is such that sometimes it's really the only solution.

    And so I heartily applaud those writers who provide me with such a temporary escape.

    Thank goodness there's room for all types of fiction.