3 autographed copies will be given away on Friday, April 8, 2016!
From a starred review in Kirkus Reviews:
“This is history at its best: the riveting, realistic story of courageous sailors forgotten by their country.
During an exercise in the South China Sea on June 3, 1969, the destroyer USS Frank E. Evans was split in half after colliding with an Australian aircraft carrier. Seventy-four men perished. Although the ship was actively engaged in the Vietnam War, the names of these men have never been placed on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. In her first book, seasoned journalist Esola brings the events and people involved vividly to life. She begins with a double-barreled prologue: first, a powerful description of the memorial wall, ending with Ann Armstrong Dailey’s realization that her brother Alan’s name is not on it. “It was like he was dead all over again,” their sister said. Next, a gripping account of the ship’s final moments puts readers right in the middle of the action: “Everything was going, rolling, topsy turvy. And fast.” What follows is a comprehensive yet uncannily personal history of this arcane footnote to the Vietnam War. Esola inhabits the minds and hearts of all players, from sailors to admirals to Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon. Many men, she discovers, joined the Navy (some at the behest of their parents) to avoid being drafted into the Army. She moves easily from their personal stories to politics to the reasons WWII vintage ships like the Evans—a “floating paint bucket”—were still in service. The story proceeds from the men’s enlistments and the ship’s role in Vietnam through to the accident and its aftermath. Later, Esola’s own growing involvement forces her to abandon journalistic detachment and join the effort to have these men recognized. Replete with black-and-white pictures, endnotes and incredibly detailed research, this book is both comprehensive history and a beautifully written human tale that reads like a novel: “Eunice Sage wore a short-sleeved black suit and matching gloves; a gold rose pinned to the center of her blouse glistened in the sun.” It should appeal not only to readers of military history, but to anyone who enjoys a well-told, fascinating tale.
An intriguing, well-written and poignant work that transcends its historical genre.”
Exclusive interview with the author:
1) When did you first know that you wanted to be a writer? Have you had other jobs along the way?
I’ve always been curious and, although I appear outgoing at times, really I’m a kind of loner–the thinking type. I like to observe. I’m not too judgmental, either. I think that as an adult I’m much more accepting of the human condition, of human faults and human nature. This often makes me a very misunderstood person but so be it. I’ve always been good at reading people and so, that said, I’ve always wanted to be a writer. I started as a newspaper journalist, which is what I studied in college. I’m recovering from that (laugh) but I truly loved getting out there and meeting a lot of people from all walks of life. It’s sad what’s become of the profession. Other jobs? Well, for the first few years of my journalism career I worked as a bartender. I had to. I also did this during college. Talk about a real education on people. I worked at a old Irish corner bar in Philadelphia. It was called Regan’s. Joe Regan, the owner, used to say I should put “University of Joe Regan” on my resume.
2) Thinking back to the way beginning, what’s the most important thing you’ve learned as a writer from then to now?
You have to do it. You have to write, even if you are scared of what people will think, what will become of it, whether anybody will buy it or not. I try to do a lot of things I am scared of. I once took a ride in the back seat of an F/A-18 as part of a Navy Blue Angels media event. I was terrified! But I did it. I am scared of the ocean. But I’ll go in the water, just because. Screw fear. So that’s my advice. Be scared, fine, but just do it.
3) With your first book now out in the wild what do you find most challenging?
Attracting readers. I have plenty of advocates for American Boys and the issue of these 74 fallen sailors, their families, and the veterans being pretty much ignored by our government for decades. That part is easy because we live in a world where we have respect for veterans and families who’ve lost loved ones. Who doesn’t know to thank a veteran?
But getting people to sign on to truly understanding and knowing their stories, that’s the hard part. It’s the missing link. When I talk about American Boys and talk about the family who lost three sons on one Navy ship I always hear a Hollywood “Saving Private Ryan” reference. Everybody knows that story and it’s fiction, loosely based on true events from World War II. American Boys is a true story about an ongoing tragedy. I want people to know this story and the people in it.
American Boys has been compared to the book Unbroken on several occasions. Both books are fast-paced narrative nonfiction and put the reader in a different time and place. Both books are entertaining in that aspect. But one is a best seller with a film. The other struggled to get a publisher because it was about a war nobody wants to read about and struggles to find readers because, well, maybe for the same reason. I was told this over and over again while I was searching for a publisher. I was told that no one would care and that the Vietnam War is as unpopular now as it was then. But I believe there is still so much to learn from that war so I marched on, and self-published. But finding readers has been tough.
The story of Vietnam will be lost on the American history landscape if more people don’t pick up books on the subject. I know for a fact they don’t get published. “Vietnam is tough.” That’s a quote from a very high-profile military-book agent. Go to a bookstore and count the Vietnam books compared to the World War II books. The disparity is remarkable. So I like to tell people to give this book a try. When I won the grand prize in the Writers Digest Self Published Book contest the judge said it best: “Even those who pass on ‘war books’ might find themselves deep in the grip of American Boys.”
4) If your book were to be turned into a movie, would your dream cast be?
That’s a funny question because I am told by many that American Boys would transition to film nicely. I wrote it like that. There is a lot of imagery and scenes and it was written to read like a novel would. The soundtrack would be amazing. Think Bob Dylan and Creedence Clearwater Revival. The wardrobe, too! I live in California and the hippie blouses will never go away. On casting, there are plenty of faces in Hollywood that would be perfect for a movie about sailors in the 1960s and the rip-roaring era of the Vietnam War. But I have to be honest. I am a Tom Hanks fan through and through. He’s passionate about veterans issues and he’d make a great Ernest Sage, who lost his three sons on the USS Frank E. Evans during the Vietnam War. Of course the family plays prominent in the book.
5) What’s up next for you?
I am working on a novel set in California before, during, and after World War II. It’s one of three book ideas I have. I’m comfortable saying that I am in no rush to take up nonfiction again. American Boys took four years and I simply can’t afford another big project like that. Today I’m well into the research phase for my novel and am writing the first draft which is to say, because I am a perfectionist, is a first draft 2.0. I am always editing as I write. It’s annoying–oh how I hate myself sometimes–but it works. I tell myself: this is how I wrote American Boys and that won a bunch of awards so I guess this is just my way of working. W. Somerset Maugham once said: “There are three rules for writing a novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are.” My next book doesn’t yet have a name–nor an agent, nor a publisher, ahem. But the theme is clear. I think of it as the greatest generation’s Peyton Place. The people who lived through the war years had some of the same issues we have nowadays. They just didn’t talk about it much. People were much more reserved. I wanted to tap into that vein of American existence, at a time that we look back and celebrate, and hold in highest regard. But really, it was quite a tragic time. That they climbed out of it is inspiring but they were not unscathed. I hope to have a first draft finished by the summer.
About the author:
Louise Esola is an award-winning author and freelance journalist whose work has been featured in several news outlets including the San Diego Union Tribune and Philadelphia Inquirer. She lives in Southern California. Visit Louise online at www.louiseesola.com.
Title: American Boys: The True Story of the Lost 74 of the Vietnam War
Author: Louise Esola
Publisher: Pennway Books
Author website: www.louiseesola.com
3 autographed copies will be given away on Friday, April 8, 2016.
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