Today I am very excited to share this interview with you. Stephen L. Park is the author of Boots: An Unvarnished Memoir of Vietnam. He served in the US Army during the height of the Vietnam War. As an Infantry Platoon Leader (Lieutenant), turning back the enemy, while ensuring the safety of his men, was his highest priority. The writing of BOOTS was both therapeutic and a means to provide an accurate account of what it was like to serve in a combat role. Steve is an accomplished artist and lives with Sherry, his wife of 46 years, in Lake Wylie, South Carolina. They share their home with three rescue dogs. BOOTS is his first book.
Mariah: Tell me a bit about yourself.
Stephen: I am no doubt considered old by most people today, but I’m still trying to figure out what I’m going to do when I grow up. Lately, there have not been enough hours in the day for me, and am surprised at how busy I stay - I am retired after all - but I am on some good pills from my shrink at the VA.(Veteran’s Administration). I still enjoy learning new things, more practical than academic in nature - one of the things I am doing is putting down a herringbone pattern hardwood floor, my tribute to Parisian apartments, using some 500-600 pieces of wood and it has taught me mucho bunches. I also drive an old car, a Citroen 2CV named Roseanna, that never lets me down. Am I rambling too much? Probably. Next question.
Mariah: What got you into writing?
Stephen: I got the idea in my head to leave a personal record, for family or whoever might want to read it, about life in war. I literally thought about it for several years, and once started I was so tentative it was all done in secrecy. I would write only when my wife left the house and quickly put it away when she returned. I finally admitted what I was doing, let her read it after swearing to certain conditions to give a critique. She reads several books a month, was a librarian, and book club member. She was as nice as possible, but I had written about fifty pages of crap. Then I found The Writer’s Block, bought an English handbook to relearn passable punctuation and grammar, and learned to write what needed to be said. That is a simplification of the tremendous amount of support and encouragement I received from beginning to end.
Mariah: Writing books seems to be a common way to heal from events in our lives. Was writing Boots part of a healing process for you?
Stephen: It was by far the most unexpected effect of the writing, a complete surprise. Looking for the right word, the act of writing one word at a time slowed down all the thoughts swirling around in my mind for years. It forced me to separate and focus on the minutia that was important, and it would hold it in my mind until I finished writing about it, not allowing me to flash to other times or places. That saturation caused by writing changed so much for me in a positive way.
Mariah: What was the hardest part about writing about your experiences in Vietnam?
Stephen: This is a tough question. On the technical side, I would begin writing in the past tense and without realizing I soon had everything in the present tense because that’s where my mind would go as I wrote. On the mental side, it hit raw nerves at times that intensified certain emotions. In the end, it was about the memories and the emotions that accompanied them, good or bad, and the honesty to write them down.
Mariah: What one thing do you want your readers to get out of reading your book?
Stephen: I simply want them to have a mental reaction to some part of it. It could be how young the soldiers were, the mental and physical stresses, the boredom and monotony, fears, adrenalin spikes, humor, living in the elements, or the importance of contact with friends and family back home.
Mariah: Are you still in touch with any of the people you served with?
Stephen: I went to a company reunion last year, my first after forty-four years, and knew two people there. I served with all of them but they were in other platoons and I just didn’t remember them. I swap emails with one of the two, and the other called me several months ago and we laughed about Boots making him a hometown hero. I evidently said too many good things about him.
Mariah: What unique talents or hobbies do you have?
Stephen: I doubt unique would describe me but I started back drawing last spring and attend a small group weekly where we have a live model, and hope to be back painting within a month. I have a rather dormant degree in studio art. I like to decorate ‘found objects’ or re-purpose something. Last week I bought a small wooden bowl at the thrift shop and made a nesting site for our Wren’s next spring, along with a woven basket for another nest. And I bring home cans of paint from the recycle center - I never know when I may find something to use it on.
Thank you for stopping by Stephen. It was a pleasure, and an honor, to interview you.
If you'd like to learn more about Boots please feel free to visit his page on the Writers AMuse Me website.