Clay Soldiers: One Marine’s Story of War, Art, & Atomic Energy is out and starting to show up on the shelves of stores. You can also find it at online retailers, most notably Amazon.com.
I took some copies over the Chuck Caldwell (the subject of the biography) last week. He started to get choked up when he saw the finished product. I think he thought that he would never see the final book.
I have to say that I wondered at times myself. It was mainly early on in the process when I was trying to bring together all of the various times and stories from Chuck’s life. You would think that with a biography that would be easy to do. You follow the timeline of his life.
The pieces weren’t working together as I wrote them. I knew that they had to because Chuck lived them. So I went back to the source time and again, digging for more details. I used my early drafts to find the gaps in his story and talked to him about those times, looking for stories that even if they weren’t part of a big event were interesting and showed more of the type of person Chuck is.
It took a year and a half (making it the second-longest time it’s taken me to write a book), but all the rough spots got smoothed out and the final book tells a great story. I think it will topple Saving Shallmar: Christmas Spirit in a Coal Town as my favorite non-fiction book that I’ve written.
I like both books for the same reason. I have living people who I could interview. Doing this, I was able to get a lot of details that wouldn’t show up in other places. I know because I scoured historical societies, newspapers, etc. looking for information on both topics. Still, there are plenty of things in both books that you won’t find anywhere else except those books and the memories of the people who I interviewed. Those details give the books a richness of setting the time and place or the story or portraying the people involved.
While I work hard on all of my books, I think I may have worked even harder on Clay Soldiers because I knew that I was telling the story of Chuck’s life. It was going to be the summary of his life and his one chance to see it as a book. I didn’t want him to be disappointed.
I think what I like best about the book was that I was able to bring it full circle. It begins with him as a 14-year-old boy attending the 75th anniversary reunion of the Battle of Gettysburg where he met and had his picture taken with Civil War veterans. The book ends with the roles reversed. He is now the aged veteran as the 75th anniversary of World War II begins. The youths will be coming to him now to hear about his experiences and have their picture taken with him.
If you missed my preview of the first chapter that I published a while back, you can catch them in this series of blog posts.