curse-of-the-coloring-book-large2In 1967, being of unsound mind, I, thinly veiled as the protagonist Herald, a sophomore at the University of Vermont, quite college—much to my parents’ dismay—to enlist in the Army. Following the visit to the induction center, I bought a GI Joe Coloring Book, a half-gallon of bourbon, stole some Denny’s crayons, and went back to my fraternity, to get drunk with my frat brothers, and color-in the drawings, in a mocking, juvenile fashion. After a year of Army training, I survived a tour of duty as a combat platoon leader. Among the medals I received were two Bronze Stars, one W/V Device for heroism in ground combat, one Oak Leaf Cluster, and an Army Commendation Medal. Returning to the U.S. I finished college, law school, and started my law firm with my attorney spouse.

In the novel, Herald, as an attorney, fails to itemize his client’s dual legal status on a binding court document. The procedural maneuvers to correct the potential legal-malpractice ignites his post-traumatic stress, heightening recurring flashbacks to his combat experiences.

The premise of my novel is the irrational combination of a GI Joe Coloring Book, quitting college at the height of the Vietnam War, the aftermath of continuing psychological chaos from combat, and an attorney creating a catastrophic legal error, making a compelling and humorous story.

The rich cast of combat characters includes:
• Herald: college dropout, platoon leader, hanging on by a thread. The spelling of “Herald,” instead of “Harold,” personalizes the protagonist as a messenger, emissary.

• Dog: former Arkansas criminal dog tracker, now point-man, blamed himself for his best friend’s death by the enemy’s booby trap, vowed to walk point, the first, most exposed person in a combat formation, until he rotates home, only barks to communicate, (a Dog-to-English dictionary is included in the book.)
• AckMan: can’t complete a sentence without emitting a strange involuntary cough, which sounds like “ack,” when he’s under stress.
• LeMaire: 260-pound French-Canadian machine gunner who braids his thick arm hair and sets it on fire for demented mosquito and human abatement.
• Pearlman: non-practicing Jew, Harvard dropout from Boston, platoon sergeant who befriends Herald.
• Ferlinghetti: Italian-American who, at odd moments, reads poems aloud to everybody from a book by the famous author of the same name.

Influences that inspired my writing of the story include the film, The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit, with Gregory Peck playing a World War II veteran, trying to balance the demands of a new job with family life, while dealing with the aftereffects of his war service, and the comicalness of the book/film Catch 22. My ‘catch,’ is that Herald, the protagonist, at times misplaces the blame on everything going wrong on the GI Joe Coloring Book, yet other times invokes the magical coloring book to protect him from danger. Humor lubricates this story, expanding the reader’s ability to empathize with the emotional finality of the legal and combat sequences. Whether it’s the platoon members’ imaginary Marlin deep-sea fishing inside a Vietnam War firebase-barbed-wire-ocean; a drunk lieutenant buddy falling out of a moving jeep; or a tavern exhibition of a bar-parachute landing fall gone awry—humor creates the lightness to allow the reader to understand the day-to-day life of a combat soldier on the battlefield in a foreign land, and life when he comes home.

It’s my hope that people connect with this story, to help them find their own courage and humor, face their demons with dignity, and empathize with other’s trauma, like that of a combat veteran living with post-traumatic stress disorder, (PTSD).

Thanks to my spouse editor, the story is a fast, easy read. I hope you enjoy this literary ride.

Give a “Curse for the Holidays!”