I was working on this story when I decided to enroll in The Literature of the Vietnam War class at Colorado State University, taught by John Clark Pratt. I hadn’t been an English major in college and only subsequently did I take a few undergraduate literature courses and graduate writing classes. This was one of the best classes I ever took. We read numerous books I’m sure I wouldn’t have encountered if I was reading on my own, such as Into A Black Sun. (Takeshi Kaiko)
We also read The Quiet American (Graham Greene), a novel by a Vietnamese officer, which, to my knowledge, is not available. We did not, notably, read Going After Cacciato. I don’t remember if there were any veterans in this class, but there was a woman who had been a nurse who brought orphans our of Vietnam. One of the requirements of the course was to write a paper. I asked if I could instead submit a short story. Dr. Pratt agreed, and I think I can say with assurance that he thought highly of the story. He encouraged me to join his graduate workshop the following semester, which I did.
When the story was ready to send out, I decided to start at the stop. Why not? So I sent it to the New Yorker. And then many more until finally, not quite twenty years later, it was accepted at this now defunct Internet journal. http://noneuclideancafe.com/issues/vol3_issue2_WinterSpring2008/cole.htm. Although I was happy to finally have it find a home, in many ways it was a comedown from my New Yorker submission. The text of the personal rejection follows. I since changed the title.
June 12, 1989
Dear Ms.—–, A very natural, appealing, modest story, but I’m afraid the parallel between the brother’s war fixation and the narrator’s divorce seemed to us at once a bit unconvincing and a bit heavyhanded. But there’s a lot in SOLDIERS to admire, and I thank you for the chance to consider it. Try again.
Partial Reading List, Literature of the Vietnam War
The Quiet American, Graham Greene
Into a Black Sun, Vietnam 1964-65 Takeshi Kaiko
The Laotian Fragments, John Clark Pratt
Parthian Shot Loyd LIttle
The 13th Valley John M. Del Vecchio
Paco’s Story Larry Heinemann
No Bugles, No Drums Charles Durden
One Very Hot Day David Halberstam
One to Count Cadence James Crumley
Bridge Fall Down Nicholas Rinaldi