Today’s guest on What Cathy Read Next is Scott Kauffman, author of Revenants: The Odyssey Home. I recently read Scott’s book – you can read my review here – and it generated lots of questions in my mind. So I’m thrilled that Scott has agreed to answer some of my questions and talk more about the book and his inspiration for writing it. If you need any further persuading to read the book, you can find an excerpt from the opening chapter here.
About the Book
Only Betsy can get him home in time; only he can bring her back before it’s too late. A grief-stricken candy-striper serving in a VA hospital following her brother’s death in Vietnam struggles to return home an anonymous veteran of the Great War against the skulduggery of a congressman who not only controls the hospital as part of his small-town fiefdom but knows the name of her veteran. The name, if revealed, would end his political ambitions and his fifty-year marriage. In its retelling of Odysseus’ journey, Revenants casts a flickering candle upon the Charon toll exacted not only from the families of those who fail to return home but of those who do.
|Publication:||23rd Dec 2015||Genre:||Historical Fiction|
Find Revenants: The Odyssey Home on Goodreads
Interview: Scott Kauffman, author of Revenants: The Odyssey Home
Without giving too much away, can you tell us a bit about Revenants: The Odyssey Home?
When a grief-stricken candy striper resolves to return home a nameless veteran of the Great War, she must overcome not only his reticence to reveal his past but the skulduggery of a local congressman who controls the hospital as part of his small-town political fiefdom.
What was the inspiration for the book?
Literary inspiration came from Johnny Got His Gun, Legends of the Fall, and The English Patient. Personal inspiration came in part from my late-wife’s uncle who may have been the last American combat death in Viet Nam and is the only American to have died on an MIA recovery mission. Also, I came of age during the Viet Nam war. From 1963 to 1975 it was television and front page news every day. I only missed getting shipped to Viet Nam myself because I pulled a high enough number in the draft lottery.
America involved itself in Viet Nam because after the Republicans bludgeoned the Democrats at the polls as being responsible for losing China in 1949 (not that it was ours to lose) neither party was willing to be the party in power should another country fall to the Communists. But once America involved itself in Viet Nam, it only committed enough resources to not lose the war, never to win it. A study contained within the infamous Pentagon Papers opined that the United States would have to accept 50,000 casualties a year for five to ten years in order to defeat the Communists. By the end of World War II, the American public was rebelling at comparable losses and was one of the reasons for the Hiroshima bomb. They would never have accepted losses of 250,000 to 500,000 to defeat the Communists in Viet Nam.
The book references Homer’s epic poem The Odyssey but is not a straight re-telling. What aspects of The Odyssey did you want to reflect in the book?
Odysseus faced mythological monsters in order to get home; Jamie and Betsy had to face their inner monsters if they too were ever to get home. The Odyssey has been such an inspiration across millennia and in so many genres (think Star Trek) but is at bottom a story of a soldier’s struggle to come home. So many soldiers who come home never really come home. I read somewhere that more veterans of Viet Nam have died at their own hands than were killed in combat. So what I wanted to reflect on was Jamie Hamilton’s odyssey home and Betsy’s odyssey to bring her brother home for her by understanding Jamie’s odyssey.
A number of characters in the book seem to feel the need to do penance. Can you talk a bit more about this?
I think for many soldiers who go through combat and come home there is tremendous guilt. Often they are ill trained, young and frightened out of their wits and, like all of us would in a similar situation, they make bad decisions where the innocent suffer. These are the monsters they too must overcome if they are ever to come home.
Another theme of the book is the consequences of war, not just for the participants but for their families and their communities. Why did you want to explore this?
I think nations go to war much too readily. We have been indoctrinated to believe that government knows what it is doing when it comes to war and that it is unpatriotic not to go along. For governments, it is all too easy to send someone else’s child off to die while they sit at home fat, dumb, happy and safe. Seldom do you see the children of the elites enlisting. On the other hand, young men, because they are in such a rush to prove themselves heroes, are easy cannon fodder. We do not really consider the consequences of war other than the immediate death and destruction. Consider, however, these questions. But for the invasion of Iraq would there have been an Isis? If America had stayed out of World War I, would the war have ended in stalemate? Would there have been a Versailles Treaty, German reparations, German hyper-inflation, a Hitler, a Holocaust, an atom bomb and a Cold War? The consequences are just staggering.
The book involves a secret that has been long hidden. Why do you think secrets are so enticing to us as readers?
I think uncovering secrets is hardwired into us by evolution. The caveman who went into the mystery of the forest looking for food was more likely to survive. So long as he wasn’t the one eaten.
How did you approach your research for the book – for example, the scenes set in the First World War. Do you enjoy the process of research?
I hate to disappoint you but I did not need to do a lot of novel-specific research. I have always been a bit of a history buff so many of the scenes came from what I have read over the years.
What was the biggest challenge you encountered when writing the book?
As in gymnastics, sticking my landing was the most difficult. Over 8 years and 14 major rewrites, the beginning did not change all that much. It was the final third I couldn’t stick. I finally found my ending when I was working on a short story that eventually became my new chapter 1. When I had my beginning, the ending just flowed out of it.
Which other writers do you admire and why?
My favorite living writer is Cormac McCarthy because he writes with the vividness of William Faulkner and the conciseness of Ernest Hemingway.
What are you working on next?
Working title – The Song of Deborah. Before a grief-stricken bounty hunter risks the wrath of the Midwest mob that hired him to track down their fifteen-year old runaway, he must come to terms with his culpability for the suicide of his teenage daughter. As you can see, another character in need of penance. Thank you so much, Cathy! This has been fun.
Thank you, Scott, for such detailed and thoughtful answers to my questions.
About the Author
Scott claims his fiction career began with an in-class book report written in Mrs. Baer’s eighth-grade English class when, due to a conflict of priorities, he failed to read the book. An exercise of imagination was required. Scott snagged a B, better than the C he received on his last report when he actually read the book. Thus began his life-long apprenticeship as a teller of tales and, some would snidely suggest, as a lawyer as well, (but they would be cynics; a race Oscar Wilde warned us knew the price of everything and the value of nothing).
Scott is the author of the legal-suspense novel, In Deepest Consequences, and a recipient of the 2011 Mighty River Short Story Contest and the 2010 Hackney Literary Award. His short fiction has been appeared in Big Muddy, Adelaide Magazine, and Lascaux Review. He is now at work on two novel manuscripts and a collection of short stories.
Scott is an attorney in Irvine, California, where his practice focuses upon white-collar crime and tax litigation with his clients providing him endless story fodder.
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