~ THE BIG ADVENTURE ~
If there’s a book you really want to read,
but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.
I’ve been haunted by the Vietnam war since I was a small girl, living for a brief time at Fort Ord, in Monterey, California. Although I didn’t understand what was going on at the time, it became a mysterious force that shaped the adults around me. As I grew up, I read all about the war I could get my hands on, both fiction and non-fiction.
In college, my favorite writing professor, in talking about what to write (all beginning writers panic at the thought of no material), said you should write what you would most like to read, and haven’t found. I lived in the books of Conrad, Hemingway, and Graham Greene, and I hated that all the big adventures in life starred marvelously complicated main characters who were all men. Why do women have to be defined only by their relationships as girlfriends, wives, mothers? Why in bigger narratives do they so often fall into the role of passive spectator or victim? Why can’t they go out into the world to test themselves? Have serious flaws, fail, live in the bigger moral universe?
Years later, I was looking through a marvelous book honoring the photojournalists killed in Vietnam and Indochina, Requiem: The Vietnam Collection, edited by Tim Page and Horst Faas. One particular picture stopped me—a picture of the photographer Dickey Chapelle, who was one of the first female war correspondents in Vietnam. That picture set a fire in me as I had never read or heard of women journalists in the war. Turns out there were only two or three women photographers who spent extensive time there. Katherine Leroy was another one. And during my preparation for publication I became aware of a third, Barbara Gluck. Although obviously a woman working there in any capacity—nurse or volunteer in the numerous charity organizations—was tremendously brave, a journalist’s perspective was the necessary lens I needed to be able to write about the things I was interested about in the war. I found my subject.