Grab a donut to go with your morning coffee, or tea, and settle back to find out how Carole Bellacera came to write Incense & Peppermints, her novel about a combat nurse in Vietnam. She has graciously accepted the invite to be today’s Wednesday’s Guest, so let’s make her feel welcome. While Carole is here, I’m over at The Blood Red Pencil blog having some fun with words.
Thanks so much for having me post on your blog today, Maryann. I’m grateful for the opportunity to talk about what it was like as I started this story. I don’t think I’ve ever been so terrified and intimidated in my life as I was while I was researching the book. For two years, I read every book I could find about women in Vietnam—and about the Vietnam War itself (The Vietnam War for Dummies was one of my favorites.) I watched a documentary about the combat nurses who served so bravely there—Vietnam Nurses with Dana Delany, and I watched every movie I could find about the Vietnam War, including the entire series of Tour of Duty.
The more I read and watched, the more terrified and inadequate I felt. How could I…a former medical technician in the Air Force, who served during the Vietnam War…but who didn’t know the slightest thing about serving during combat…how could I write this book? What gave me the right to write this book? Could I do justice to it, and be able to honor all the women who served there?
I just knew I had to try. I felt directed to write this novel… by God, the Universal Spirit, Mother Goddess…whatever, I knew I had to do it.
The inspiration first came from a photograph—the one of the marine on the lower left corner of the
cover. This boy had been my pen-pal in high school. I came across this torn photo of him one day while I was reorganizing my photo albums. Honestly, I didn’t remember much about him. I knew his name was Danny and he was from Indiana. My best friend, Susie, had given me his address and told me he was going to Vietnam and would I write him? (I seem to recall he was a cousin or related to her family somehow.)
I was a flighty sixteen-year-old, and madly in love with a senior named Gary Baldauf. And perhaps the only reason I even agreed to write Danny was because he bore a remarkable resemblance to Gary. Of course, I knew there was a war going on somewhere in southeast Asia. (I’m not even sure, though, I knew Vietnam was in southeast Asia.) But the war hadn’t affected me. Oh, in the back of my mind, I guess I worried that Gary might be drafted and get sent there, but the chance was small. After all, he was heading off to college at Purdue.
So that’s how I began writing chatty, scatter-brained letters to this “older man” who looked like my high school crush. I’m sure my letters were filled with all kinds of gems like how much I loved Mark Lindsay of Paul Revere and the Raiders, and how cute my new white go-go boots were, and how groovy I looked after drawing Twiggy eyelashes around my eyes and dotting freckles on my cheeks with eyeliner—following the how-to instructions in Teen Magazine.
Danny replied to my letters, and even sent me the photo of himself taken in Vietnam, but I can’t tell you what he said. I have absolutely no memory of anything he wrote. When I think back on it, I believe I received only one or two letters. When they stopped coming, I didn’t think about it; I doubt if I even noticed or wondered. After all, I was 16…going to basketball games, and dances, and pep rallies. It didn’t even occur to me to worry about Danny and what may have happened to him. It was only after I found his photo a few years ago that it hit me. What had happened to him? And how could I find out? I didn’t even remember his last name.
I turned the photo over and saw that half of it had been torn away. I knew he’d sent it to me like that because there hadn’t been another person in the picture. Only half of the inscription on the back was visible.
Danny Bruce. That had to be his name. So I got online and did a web search. When a page popped up on my screen, my stomach dipped, and I could feel the blood draining from my face. It was a website about the Vietnam Memorial Wall, and his name was on it.
While participating in combat on March 1, 1969, Danny was killed in saving the lives of three fellow Marines, and was awarded the Medal of Honor post-humously. He had been in Vietnam for a little over a month before he was killed. And me? I was busy partying, having sleepovers, eating burgers at the Dog ‘N Suds, and just going about my happy teenage life. I know…I was just doing what any teenager would be doing. But Danny had been a teenager, too. He was 18 when he died.
This is why I was driven to write this book—to honor Danny, and the courageous nurses who saved thousands of “Dannys.” I hope I’ve done them the honor they so deserve.
Carole Bellacera is the author of eight novels of women’s fiction. Her first novel, Border Crossings, a hardcover published by Forge Books in May of 1999, was a 2000 RITA Award nominee for Best Romantic Suspense and Best First Book, a nominee for the 2000 Virginia Literary Award in Fiction. It was also a 2000 finalist in the Golden Quill award and in the Aspen Gold Award and won 1st Place in the Volusia County 2000 Laurel Wreath Award. Her short fiction and non-fiction has appeared in magazines such as Woman’s World, The Star, Endless Vacation and The Washington Post. In addition, her work has appeared in various anthologies such as Kay Allenbaugh’s Chocolate for a Woman’s Heart, Chocolate for a Couples’ Heart and Chicken Soup for Couples. www.carolebellacera.com