When I first started writing Green Bay Outsiders, my current work in progress, I knew one of my characters was going to be a Vietnam War veteran so I delved into stories that highlight the experiences of such men and women. Although Sylvester Stallone often serves as the butt of jokes because of the many atrocious movies he has made during his career, many other films he has made have significantly more merit, including the first “First Blood” movie. The film, released in 1982, approximately a decade after the end of the Vietnam War, shows a war veteran displaced by the trauma of his experiences overseas whose buddies back home are dying from various ailments and who can’t find a home for himself back on American turf.
My long short story, “Green Bay Outsiders”, is coming along. Yes, I know I’ve been at work on it for a while and it’s dangerously close to turning into a novella, truth be told. I converted the manuscript into Microsoft Word the other day just to see how long it was, and it had reached 170 pages. When did that happen?
In any case, one of the fun things about writing a story that turns long is that new themes emerge, or existing themes take on depth or nuance you originally didn’t expect. I posted my first post about “Green Bay Outsiders” back in September when the only thing I really knew was that one of the main characters, Jack Billings, was a Vietnam vet who had fought in Khe Sanh in 1968.
As part of my research for my current story, “Green Bay Outsiders”, I looked at some of the challenges facing Vietnam veterans once they returned to the United States following hostilities in the late 1960s and early 1970s.
The protagonist of “Green Bay Outsiders”, Carl Daniels (who becomes a major character in the novel, Billy Maddox Takes His Shot), lives a somewhat comfortable if routine, middle-class existence in Green Bay, Wisconsin. He is fascinated, however, by the history of his uncle Jack Briggs, a former Army Special Forces soldier who fought at Khe Sanh in 1968. Jack’s experiences continue to haunt him, and his influence over the younger man (Carl is a recent college graduate) only grows when Jack moves to Green Bay from Missoula, Montana to help take care of a former war buddy, Bob Brown, whose exposure to the Agent Orange herbicide has led to serious health problems including the onset of Hodgkins disease.
To start researching Vietnam veterans, I turned to the First Blood films from the 1980s.