Tuesday, November 8, 2011

What I Learned In Vietnam by Catherine West

Veteran's Day is Friday. I daresay everyone reading this has had a loved one or known someone who has been a veteran. But unless we've actually served in the military, how do we really know the sacrifices they've made to protect our freedom? 

Catherine West has written Yesterday's Tomorrow, about a journalist who travels half-way around the world to bring the Vietnam war home to those left behind. Today she tells us how she came to write that novel on such a difficult subject. Be sure to check our her blog (http://www.catherinewestblog.blogspot.com) for a chance to win a copy of her book. She'll be giving it away on Veteran's Day, this Friday, November 11th.
~ Angie

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.

I heard a story about combat-journalists, many were young women, who left home, some left their jobs, to fly halfway across the world into a war zone. They risked it all, risked their lives, to cover The Vietnam War. And I wondered why. I wondered what that would be like, what those women were like, what made them tick, and what a story like that would look like. And I knew I had to write it.

A few years later, I completed a manuscript called Yesterday's Tomorrow. It takes place over a span of a few years, 1967-1975, predominantly in Vietnam, during the war, and the female protagonist is a young woman who strikes out on her own as a combat journalist.

For a long while, I didn’t fully understand why I wrote this story, why the pull was so strong, why it meant so very much to me. Thanks to OakTara and their willingness to take on what is sometimes still seen as a controversial setting and subject, now that Yesterday’s Tomorrow has been published, I’m starting to find out.

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 today. Although I don't remember it, there is something undeniable 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 set out to write a war story, so it was never my intention to bog down the story with military information, but I knew it had to be authentic. So I launched my attack on every book I could find, every website and every photograph that covered the era I would write about. 

Writing Yesterday’s Tomorrow changed me.

Up to that point, I had no idea what war was all about.

War was a faraway concept. Something I learned about in school. Something I read about in the newspaper, watched reports about on television.

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 greater understanding of what it means to go into battle.

And I know that is a good thing.

I remember getting to a point in my story and having to stop and take a break and pull away.

I even questioned whether I should continue writing it.

Somehow I felt as though I was stepping on holy ground.

I was.

But, with a lot of encouragement, 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.

Although the war ended thirty-six years ago, it lives on in the hearts and minds of those who came home. It lives on through the memories we have of those who didn’t. It lives on in the legacy that the courageous men and women who lost their lives in Vietnam left behind.

I learned that even after thirty-six years, there are things you just don't talk about.

After thirty-six years, the pain doesn't end. Maybe it lessens a bit, but it never really goes away.

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, dank and putrid swamp with no idea who might be hiding in the depths of that jungle. How can you describe with any authenticity what it must be like to watch a friend die in your arms?

But we 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, I have heard from more than a few people that it has helped them see Veterans in a different light. It has given them a new perspective on war and its many facets. In some small way, it has helped them understand. And to that, I say, thank-you, God.

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?

"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.

Yesterday's Tomorrow

Vietnam, 1967.

Independent, career-driven journalist Kristin Taylor wants two things: to honor her father's memory by becoming an award-winning overseas correspondent and to keep tabs on her only brother, Teddy, who signed up for the war against their mother's wishes. Brilliant photographer Luke Maddox, silent and brooding, exudes mystery. Kristin is convinced he's hiding something. 

Willing to risk it all for what they believe in, Kristin and Luke engage in their own tumultuous battle until, in an unexpected twist, they’re forced to work together. Ambushed by love, they must decide whether or not to set aside their own private agendas for the hope of tomorrow that has captured their hearts.

Educated in Bermuda, England and Canada, Catherine holds a degree in English from the University of Toronto. When she’s not at the computer working on her next story, you can find her taking her Border Collie for long walks or tending to her roses and orchids. Catherine and her husband live on the beautiful island of Bermuda, with their two college-aged children. Catherine is a member of Romance Writers of America, and American Christian Fiction Writers, and is a founding member of International Christian Fiction Writers. Catherine’s debut novel Yesterday’s Tomorrow, released in March 2011 through
OakTara Publishers. Catherine’s next novel, Hidden in the Heart, will be available in the near future, also through OakTara.

OakTara Website: http://www.oaktara.com


  1. Catherine, I'm old enough to remember watching the Vietnam War reported and film clips being shown on the news. But it seemed like it was so distant and not really a part of my teenage life. The draft ended for the war just before friends were old enough to pulled in. I was never "personally" affected, but I know the horrors of that war for others still linger.

    I believe our role as writers is to entertain, but perhaps we also have the privilege and responsibility to challenge, enlighten, and encourage our readers. Stir them to look at situations in a way they never have before.

    It sounds like writing your novel not only changed you, it has the potential to change others. Kudos to you for diving into a difficult time and subject.

  2. Thank you, Dawn. Yes, I have had a few people remark that reading Yesterday's Tomorrow has helped them look at Veteran's in a different light. I think I probably didn't realize that aspect of it while I was writing, but looking back now, I see that's a huge part of why I was supposed to write the book.

  3. You have all the symptoms of a time traveler, Catherine. Is it not the most magnificent profession? Can't wait to read the book! Thank you for this touching post, and for remembering our soldiers, who so often stand in the shadows. Yes... you have been there.


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