In Bruised Purple Hearts: Ghosts of the USA, author Jerry Blanton illustrates the importance and effect of the Civil Rights Movement, Vietnam War, and the rise of feminism, equal rights, the Gay Liberation Movement, music and much more. Having personally lived through these times, I’m eager to hear his thoughts on writing history — or as Jerry says, telling history.
Telling History by Jerry Blanton
My love of history began as the son of an NCO in the United States Air Force. Through my first twelve years, I was raised on or around air bases of the Strategic Air Command. One day I accompanied my father to an airfield where I saw silver jets: fast fighters like the F-86 and massive bombers like the B-29s and the B-36s. I was awed by their power and speed. Airbases often exhibited older fighters: P-38s, P-47s, or P-51s. Dad explained those were planes from World War Two. Then I asked about wars, whom we fought, when and why. He explained what he knew.
By three years old, I read and wrote because my older sister taught me what she had learned at school. I became a storyteller, and I read, devouring classic comic books about King Arthur and the knights of the Round Table, Julius Caesar and the conquest of Gaul. I read my family’s large illustrated Bible about Saul, David and Solomon, and the Christ. We lived in Japan, and my questions became broader and deeper: Why are Japanese so different from Americans? Why did we fight them? Why are we no longer enemies? My parents acquired a set of books called A Picturesque Tale of Progress, which revealed history from prehistoric times until the founding of modern democracies. I read all nine books by nine. From libraries, I read history about the United States. In fifth grade, I gave a memorized speech on the Civil War. While most students spoke five to fifteen minutes, I gave an hour-long overview of the Civil War, discoursing on major battles, the generals on each side, the number of troops, how the battles were fought, and the killed and wounded until the other students and the teacher were glaze-eyed.
A bona fide history buff, my favorite readings are histories and biographies. My first attempt at historical fiction in 1980 was a semi-autobiographical novel of a baby boomer from birth through the sixteenth year and titled Boom! (self-published 2010).
In 2009, I began a historical novel told in flashbacks about a former master and former slave who became business partners after the Civil War, and I self-published it (2011). Ex-slave Moses and ex-master Joshua left the South, went west, and wound up creating a ranch in the mountains of New Mexico: The Sunrise Valley Ranch. I researched to set it in the West during conflicts with Native Americans. The book is titled Long Shot, which is a double entendre. Joshua had been a Confederate sharpshooter picking off Union officers from a distance with a powerful rifle; his decision to live and work together with Moses was an idealized attempt to heal the wounds of slavery, another long shot. A main character of the novel is Marshal Buster Kendrick who tries to solve a series of robbery/killings, and whose trail leads him to the Sunrise Valley Ranch.
In 2014, I got a telephone call from a man with an idea for a novel about a German Christian doctor who wound up being a U-boat commander in WW2. He claimed it was based on a true story. I met the caller who showed me his research and a one-page plot outline. He said, “I’m not a writer. Do you think you could write the book?” I said I could, and we signed a contract. I would earn the first $95,000, and we would split whatever the book made after that. I had to research on-line because I had never been to Germany and was not an expert on U-boat operations. After two and a half years, I completed the manuscript, but I found my partner had cardiovascular disease and had been hospitalized and nearly died. I wanted a professional editor to review it, but he hedged, so I said I would pay for the editing. The developmental editor turned the book into a very good novel primarily through deletions (too many footnotes and one inconsistent passage). iUniverse published the book, and I chose the graphics. The book Nightmare Enemy, Dream Friend (2016) has received good reviews and compliments from readers. The narrative is told in the third person about Luther Weitgucker born in 1911 in Dresden. Raised a Christian, he goes to med school and graduates in 1936. By then, Hitler has been in power for three years, so Luther finds he cannot grow a private practice. To feed and shelter his young family, he joins the Kriegsmarine. Luther becomes a very good submarine commander (a nightmare enemy to the British and Americans), but he is not a Nazi and adheres to his Christian values and his medical ethics and tries to save sailors from ships he sinks, including a Welsh captain and fellow Christian, with whom he becomes friends (a dream friend).
Researched and written over two and a half years, my current book concerns the Vietnam War and Civil Rights Movement. Since I lived then, my research involved making sure of dates and events and discovering background information. This narrative is told in first person by one twin brother: Matt Conklin. He and his brother Max are intelligent but are not exactly alike. Both doubt the necessity of the war but take different routes. Matt seeks alternative service to fighting while Max joins ROTC and goes to ‘Nam as a military journalist. The story spans from 1963 (the twins are high school seniors) to 1975 (when the war finally ends). Along the way, they encounter racism, feminism, the beginning of LGBTQ rights, antiwar radicals, and psychedelic drugs—all the turmoil of those years. Matt is spiritually sensitive, and ghosts (his killed buddies, some famous people, and deceased lovers) appear to him and ask things of him. The book published in September this year is titled Bruised Purple Hearts: Ghosts of the USA. It has gotten an early good review and, surprisingly, seems to appeal to millennials, grandchildren of the boomers.
Many thanks, Jerry. Your post reminds me how serendipity and personal history play a role in the stories we write.
Bruised Purple Hearts: Ghosts of the USA by Jerry Blanton ~~ It is the early sixties as Matt Conklin and his twin brother, Max, graduate from high school amid interesting yet chaotic times that include the Civil Rights Movement, Vietnam War, and the rise of feminism, gay rights, and the use of psychedelic drugs. Matt and Max could not be more different in their views of war, civil rights, and the part physical chemistry plays within relationships.
Matt is a romantic idealist who stands up to civil rights abuses and the atrocities of war. While pursuing his dream of becoming a writer, he crosses paths with bigots, women who want to marry him, antiwar radicals, drug dealers, and gay friends struggling for societal acceptance. After he becomes a teacher to the disadvantaged, Matt craves intellectual stimulation and experiments with drugs. But what no one knows is that the spiritually sensitive Matt is receiving visits from ghosts who ask things of him. As the years pass, will Matt emerge from his struggles determined to live his truth or resigned to live a life he never wanted?
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M.K. Tod writes historical fiction. Her latest novel, TIME AND REGRET was published by Lake Union. Mary’s other novels, LIES TOLD IN SILENCE and UNRAVELLED are available from Amazon, Nook, Kobo, Google Play and iTunes. She can be contacted on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads or on her website www.mktod.com.