Today we welcome Robert Goswitz.
Book ‘Em: Tell us about you and your life outside of writing.
Robert Goswitz: A dog-walking novelist who believes his best qualities will soon be discovered. Married for thirty-eight years to my saintly wife Jody. We live on the banks of the beautiful Bark River in Heartland Wisconsin. Proud father of two adult children, Rob is a thirty-five year old supervisor At Whole Foods in Minneapolis. My daughter Andrea is married and an Art Teacher at Fort Atkinson High School, she will be entering Law School in the fall.
Taught At-Risk, Emotionally Disturbed and Cognitively Disabled youth for thirty-three years in the Wauwatosa and Waukesha School Districts.
Drafted into the Army in 1971. Served in Vietnam from September of 1971 to August of 1972. Earned the Combat Infantry Badge and Bronze Star for his service with the 196th Brigade, the last American Infantry unit in Vietnam. His first novel The Dragon Soldiers Good Fortune is based on his wartime experience.
Book ‘Em: Which books have you written? What are they about and why did you choose to write them?
Robert Goswitz: The Dragon Soldiers Good Fortune, will be published by Black Opal Books in 2018.
A young soldier treads the ambiguous boundary between reality and illusion. Characters from Vietnamese folklore bind my story to the land and it’s people.
Under extreme stress Private Ed Lansky thinks he see’s a dragon on the battlefield. The dragon appears during a rocket attack, an ambush and a flash flood. Lansky escapes unharmed. As the story progresses he attempts to dismiss the continued dragon sightings as stress induced hallucinations. The dragon becomes his secret, a symbol of the internal war. Eventually, he accepts the dragon as his warrior’s shield, but remains conflicted about it’s existence.
I came back from Vietnam knowing I had a great story to tell. It took a while for me to learn how to write it.
Book ‘Em: Does your book have a message?
Robert Goswitz: Yes, it has two messages. 1) Only those who have not been to war glorify it. 2) Other worlds exist beyond the limitations of human perception.
Book ‘Em: Do you have a work in progress?
Robert Goswitz: Yes, I’ve completed a twenty-thousand-word start on the prequel to, The Dragon Soldiers Good Fortune. My new story, Saint Bernadine’s Crossing takes the reader back to Ed Lansky’s teenage years in his hometown to tell the back-story on his amazing luck. Elements of magical realism have found their way into this narrative as well.
Book ‘Em: What was the most difficult section/piece you ever wrote? What made it difficult?
Robert Goswitz: My story started out as a memoir. Once, an agent in a pitch session stopped me in mid-sentence to ask, “Tell me how your memoir is different from the one hundred Vietnam memoir’s already published?”
Not having a good answer made me realize the story needed a distinguishing quality. Vietnamese folklore became a rich resource for story elements. No one else I had read was using it.
The challenge was to make the dragon believable. Early readers approved of the dragon and I was encouraged to give her a larger role. My memoir was morphing into a work of magical realism. I began pitching it as infantry action with a mystical twist. Through the guidance of my literary agent Jeanie Loiacono, we added more dragon and Black Opal Books signed me to a publishing contract because they loved the dragon.
Book ‘Em: What sort of research do you do?
Robert Goswitz: I read every book I can find on my topic and Google every concept even remotely related to my story, to find its depth. What is the foundation of belief for this idea? What historical figures have already lived the truth’s I’m trying to tell?
Book ‘Em: Which books and authors do you read for pleasure? Is there an author that inspires you?
Robert Goswitz: Rumors of War by Phillip Caputo, Plainsong by Kent Haruf, Henderson the Rain King by Saul Bellow and the early works of Paul Theroux, Graham Green and Jim Harrison have provided a lot of pleasure for me. Larry Watson’s As Good as Gone doesn’t get enough credit. Alamo Doughboy by Jennifer Rude Klett about her grandfather in WWI was interesting. Jack Woodville London’s French Letters paints an interesting portrait of the home front during WWII.
Tim O Brien and Karl Marlantes showed me I had a tale worth telling. Kathleen Rodger’s Seven Wings to Glory, Katie Schultz’s Flashes of War, and anything by Annie Proulx also have given me moments of inspiration.
Book ‘Em: Was there a person who encouraged you to write?
Robert Goswitz: Yes! Members of writers groups through the years have encouraged me. Writers from around the world in The Next Big Writer online group were encouraging. The Military Writers Society of America especially Kathleen Rodgers have provided support. My good friends and patient early readers Todd Hoffmeister and Jennifer Rude Klett have been helpful. My literary agent Jeanie Loiocono has put in many hours of reading and critiquing. My first and most important reader was my wife Jody.
Book ‘Em: What would you say are your strengths as a writer?
Robert Goswitz: I am willing to write a bad paragraph, rather than wait for the perfect one to form in my mind. Once on the page I can see what it needs, and mend it with less stress.
My unshakeable belief in the rightness of the tales I tell. Once I’ve done my research, I approach the page confidently.
Book ‘Em: How often do you write, and do you write using a strict routine?
Robert Goswitz: I am easily distracted by sun shine or a fair breeze. Nothing in my life depends on me putting out ten pages a day. Living in Wisconsin gives me a long winter to sit inside and spill out the backlog of images and ideas that have built up over the good weather months.
Book ‘Em: Five years from now, where do you see yourself as a writer?
Robert Goswitz: It’s likely I will have published Saint Bernadine’s Crossing and be working on my third novel.
Book ‘Em: If you could offer one piece of advice to the novice writer, what would it be?
Robert Goswitz: The only rule about a first draft is that it must be written. Just write. Editing your own work is a skill to be learned early. Eventually you will gain confidence if you are persistent.
When you get your first, “No,” decide that it has put you closer to your first, “Yes we like it.”
Book ‘Em: What would you consider the best compliment a reader could give your book?
Robert Goswitz: “Dragon Soldier’s Good Fortune is a one of a kind Vietnam War novel in the very best way! Combat is used to take the reader on a mystical and spiritual adventure where faith, trust, courage and belief are born and tested! This is not just a war story- it becomes a level of consciousness. I enjoyed this book immensely. Not a common story and certainly a much deeper reading experience than could be expected. The author truly delivers an inspirational story.”
Reverend Bill McDonald
Founder of Military Writers Society of America
Author of Warrior: A Spiritual Journey and Alchemy of a Warrior
Minister, International Motivational Speaker
Book ‘Em: Provide an excerpt of your writing that you would like to share with the members.
Robert Goswitz: The following is an excerpt from The Dragon Soldiers Good Fortune.
September 25, 1971
Ed Lansky landed at Da Nang Air Base with orders to report to the 195th Light Infantry Brigade. A driver from the brigade HQ picked him up at the air base.
The large coastal city of Da Nang surrounded the air base with narrow streets abuzz with the sounds of commerce in open-air markets. Pedi-cab and pedestrian traffic clogged the street, the jeep stopped often. During one of the stops Lansky looked into a tiny storefront. The faces of the merchants and customers, their animated expressions, suggested this was more than bartering. Troubled faces with skin pulled tight by great emotion, skin so tight the faces were only thinly veiled skulls.
A hole opened in the traffic and the driver shot forward, then jerked to a stop. Outside a small restaurant, the smell of pepper sauce, cooked rice, and exotic spices mixed with the diesel-urine odor of the street. Lansky looked into the humidity of the tiny blue and red shack. The patrons squatted with small bowls under their mouths, expressing rice to their lips using bamboo chopsticks. Torrents of singsong conversation assaulted his ear. The faces were alike. Fervent.
No one studied Lansky’s face. No one in the restaurant even noticed him. If they had looked past his Occidental cheekbones, they would have seen his trepidation.
The driver started again, following a scooter through the crowd. The wall of people parted slowly, giving the jeep only enough room to creep along. The driver slammed his hand on the wheel in frustration as people dodged the bumper of the jeep.
“Happens all the time here,” said the driver. “Never can get through this street.”
The jeep pushed slowly through the throng.
Lansky stared at an open building supported on poles.
Several monks in saffron-colored robes stood on a small dais swinging incense burners in a slow rhythm, filling the building with a fragrant white smoke. Lansky smelled the sandalwood as the creeping jeep improved his view. Several rows of Vietnamese stood before the monks mumbling a chant at a very low octave. They were dressed in traditional religious costumes. Women wore brightly colored ao-dais, hair lacquered and coifed gracefully up and back. Men sat in a row, ochre-colored robes flowing, beating on log drums, others striking dulcimer-like instruments.
The crowd on the street focused on something in front of them, ignoring the driver’s attempts to nose the jeep through from behind.
A rapid sequence of loud explosions pulsed down the street. Lansky’s companion reached under his seat, pulled out a forty-five pistol, chambered a round and handed it to him. “Here, safety is on, keep it low, but be ready.”
The crowd had pressed a young woman against the jeep. She frowned at the pistol in Lansky’s hand. When he looked at her, she shook her head in disapproval. “Nooo! Haa-fest.” She pointed out into the street.
Lansky tried to reason out what she said. Then it came to him. “Harvest?” He pointed with his free hand at the street.
The young woman’s face blossomed with a relieved smile. “Yaaa—haa-fest.”
Lansky looked at his companion. “The girl says it’s some kind of harvest celebration.”
“Just keep cool, let’s see what happens.” The driver’s trigger finger drummed the magazine of the M-16, now in his lap.
The crowd became animated, a wave of energy rippled across the row of faces. Rhythmic clapping started. They cheered and pointed down the street, eyes wide with happiness.
Another sequence of explosions went off in the street.
“Fireworks?” The driver looked at Lansky.
“Yeah, we probably overreacted.”
“You can’t be too careful in the vil, but maybe you’re right, this is some kind of festival. Let’s take a look.” They put their weapons between the seats and rose to a standing position.
The young woman smiled at Lansky. He offered his hand, inviting her to stand on the jeep floor, improving her view. She declined.
Out on the street, a ceremonial dragon swung from curb to curb in sinuous undulation. It had a green crocodile head, a white beard, glittering eyes, and a twenty-five-foot-long snake’s body, painted in multicolored detail.
A dance team marched under the dragon, holding poles supporting each of the twelve-hooped sections. They whipped the beast back and forth in a coordinated wave pattern.
Drummers in scarlet tunics marched behind the dragon, banging out a beat the dancers used to time their turns.
Fireworks popped and crackled in the street.
Lansky looked at the driver. “Seeing a dragon brings good luck.”
“How do you know?”
“I learned about dragons down in Cam Ranh.”
When the dragon and drummers passed, the crowd spilled out into the street and followed.
Lansky’s driver sat down. “Let’s go.”
They drove across the empty street.