"yOu’re either gonna love it or hate it, but either way you’ve got to respect it.
Some people aren’t going to believe it but when the direct truth comes at you, some people can’t handle it."
I woke up inside a really big helicopter. I guess it was a Black Hawk, but don’t ask. My dad would know. Mr. Airborne Ranger with his green beanie and his rotary-wing patch would tell you what model, how many gallons of fuel it carries (I think you’re supposed to say ‘pounds of fuel’, but whatever), how much it can lift, all that military stuff. Me? I’m an x-ray tech. I know the ins and outs of a radiology department. Yeah, yeah, I know how to disassemble my weapon, clean it. I can hit those paper targets from real far away.
Of course, I had an edge over all of the others in boot camp: growing up, dad took me shooting each winter and summer. Mom let him take me, figuring that he was trying to make me into the son she never gave him. He’d take me into the woods, and tell me that I need to be able to handle a weapon with cold, stiff fingers. There’s a skill I never needed in Iraq.
-excerpt from ROADSIDE REST
60,000 word novel PUBLISHED NOVEMBER 11, 2012
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I was working on Buran, my novel about the Soviet space shuttle program, when an incredible PBS documentary aired about the medical care of soldiers wounded in Iraq. It followed male and female military personnel from the moment that they are wounded, to their arrival home in the U.S. Several of these wounded soldiers, marines, and airmen have lost limbs.
I abandoned Buran (temporarily), and started writing Roadside Rest.
I've worked a lot of shifts at the VA Hospital in L.A., and if I could afford to quit my current job, I would go work there, full time, scanning veterans. They're the best patient population. In the past, the typical VA patient was a cranky old guy who fought in the war. Now I'm starting to see young men and women-veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan-wandering the hallways of the first floor, getting their bearings.
BOOK COVER BY GABRIELLA EXNER
While working at the VA, I met an Army Reserve major who is the prosthetics specialist. Her patient population consists of amputees who have lost arms and legs in Iraq and Afghanistan. I don't know how she does it. Some of her patients have very a positive outlook, while others are stuck in a very dark place. They have accepted her into their subculture, despite the fact that she is a "normy", their vernacular for those of us who have all of our body parts. For my own part, I am utterly blown away by their strength and bravery.
Couple of funny things happened while writing the protagonist, Kris Hidvegi’s story. First, I wrote it in the first person. Usually, I don’t like to read stories in the first person, and never write in the first person. Kris insisted that I tell the story in her voice, even though she’s a figment of my imagination. The second thing was that my protagonist was female. How does a middle-aged man get away with writing the fictional autobiography of a 28 year-old woman? Well, my mother was a woman, I grew up with 3 step sisters, I’m married, and have a daughter. I think I pulled it off.
The Arizona parts of Roadside Rest take place in real locations where birderwatchers from all over the U.S.—and even other countries—go looking for fantastic, colorful hummingbirds, flycatchers, and hawks.
I try to visit the tiny hamlet of Patagonia every summer, so that I can ogle the hummingbirds. The dangers along the U.S.-Mexican border, as described in the book, are very real. An innocent birder from New York or Toronto looking for Elegant Trogons in the mountains of southeast Arizona can run across an armed drug smuggler. The locals wear pistols while photographing butterflies.
I finished writing Roadside Rest while waiting for a flight at Kirtland Air Force Base. Literally at the moment that I typed the last sentences and closed my laptop, two F-22 Raptors rolled by my window. Craig Chernos just spent two months proof-reading and editing it, and right now I am going over his work. Then, I am going to hand it over to Sara Harp. Hopefully, it will be on sale by Christmas.