Monthly Archives: April 2011

Eleven Bravo and LRRP Rangers of Vietnam: First review

Reviews—necessary but scary.  I’m reminded of the analogy told by a fellow writer who compared the process to dropping one’s pants in public and then listening politely and silently as the bystanders offer comments.

Eighteen months ago, the first reviews of my soon to be released novel, A Wretched Man, a novel of Paul the apostle, were published based upon advance reader copies .  They were favorable, and I was relieved, flattered, and more than a little surprised.  A writer may hope, but self doubt is omnipresent.

I am now in the same posture with the release, in serial fashion, of my short stories of Vietnam.  The series is entitled LRRP Rangers Vietnam, and the first three installments have been published as eBooks.  Today, the first review of the first installment was published online, and I am experiencing the same response as earlier–relief and surprise at the flattering comments, and so I boast …

Ms. Sheila Deeth read and reviewed the first installment, Eleven Bravo.  She introduces her review with this summary:

Eleven Bravo, by R.W. Holmen chronicles the beginning of a young man’s experience in Veitnam. With pitch-perfect dialog and stunning descriptions and commentary, he brings a time not too long gone to life and clears the way for a series of literary vignettes to come–short, but bold, dark and intense, so read it with a 5-star coffee.

Her full review is reprinted below.

“Somehow, I felt abandoned and much farther away than the man on the moon,” says R.W. Holmen in his short story Eleven Bravo.

The author conveys that abandonment beautifully, setting the Vietnam war into personal and global context with vivid details and telling comments. Characters and place come to life with the words, dialog is pitch perfect, and there are haunting comments I’ll remember long after the story’s done. From FNG (f** new guy) to savvy vet in twenty-three days, from one land to another with various stops for training along the way, from safety to horror, the author shares the experiences of war, bringing sight, scent, and sound into stunning perspective. Climbing in mud with eighty-pound packs, fools on the march while the “fool killer” trails, clearing brush with machetes, arranging mines… the bond and the folly of immortal combat ring loud and clear from the page, and the story’s told with all the realism, language and pathos of experience.

Eleven Bravo is the first in a series of Vietnam vignettes, autobiographical fiction based on true events and bound by story arc into literary gems. The writing is confident and clear, hauntingly honest, brutally true. The story completes a young man’s transformation and leaves the reader eager for the next installment. If this piece is anything to go by, this will be an excellent series of honest depiction and wise commentary, and I’m humbled to have read this first chapter.

Sheila Deeth, writer, illustrator, and prolific book reviewer

Bold, dark and intense

Regular followers of this blog know that the frequency of posts was slowing and has now virtually ground to a halt.  I hope none suspect that my passion for “progressive, religious themes” has diminished nor my advocacy for LGBTQ interests in the church and especially the ELCA. 

I claim busyness and business as my defense. 

I have recently been extremely productive, albeit in different venues.  My time has been consumed in unequal measure by a) the continued promotion of my published novel, b) the new project of writing a sequel to the earlier novel, c) finally penning a series of short stories based upon my Vietnam experience,  and d) preliminary efforts at a non-fiction piece more closely related to my LGBTQ writing advocacy.  With no less than three writing projects underway, there has been scarce time for the fourth estate, which is this blog.  For those who deem this blog to have been an important voice, I apologize for the current silence.

For now, blog posts will be infrequent, self-aggrandizing, and promotional.  Today, for instance, I announce the first literary review of the serialization of my Vietnam experience.  Reviewer Sheila Deeth introduced her review of the first installment (Eleven Bravo) with these generous words:

With pitch-perfect dialog and stunning descriptions and commentary, he brings a time not too long gone to life and clears the way for a series of literary vignettes to come–short, but bold, dark and intense, so read it with a 5-star coffee.

And she concludes:

The writing is confident and clear, hauntingly honest, brutally true. The story completes a young man’s transformation and leaves the reader eager for the next installment.

For more background and the full text of her review, click here.

A book review from New Zealand

It’s a small world we live in.  The latest scholarly review of A Wretched Man, a novel of Paul the apostle, comes from the opposite side of the globe—Dunedin, New Zealand.  Dean of Studies at the Knox Centre for Ministry and Leadership, Dr. Jason Goroncy, offers his review which praises the attempt to reimagine theology through art.  The following is an excerpt, but you can read the entire review at Dr. Goroncy’s blog, Per Crucem ad Lucem.

[T]he communication of divine truth demands the work of the very imagination it is determined to sanctify. So Jonathan Edwards: ‘Unless you use imagination, unless you take a truth and you image it – which of course is art – you don’t know what it means’. Or, citing John Henry Newman:

The ways in which we ‘see’ the world, its story and its destiny; the ways in which we ‘see’ what human beings are, and what they’re for, and how they are related to each other and the world around them; these things are shaped and structured by the stories that we tell, the cities we inhabit, the buildings in which we live, and work, and play; by how we handle – through drama, art and song – the things that give us pain and bring us joy. What does the world look like? What do we look like? What does God look like?

This is precisely why I welcomed reading Obie Holmen’s A Wretched Man: A Novel of Paul the Apostle. Holmen seeks to … situate Paul in his geographical, social, historical and psychological landscape, and gift us with a creative way of hearing afresh the letters that make up the bulk of the New Testament.

According to Holmen, prior to his fire-side conversion-encounter with Yeshua (Jesus), ‘Paulos (Paul), the defender of orthodoxy, had acquired a proud identity and a status; self-righteousness became the dressing for his wounds, masking his inner torment’ (p. 75). Indeed, ‘the wretched man wandered the streets of Tarsos, lost and alone, accursed and condemned’ (p. 54). Thereafter, Holmen paints Paulos as one who is seeking to carve out the implications – for Torah, for Jewish privilege, for our understanding of God, etc. – of this radical encounter with Yeshua. The entire story takes place, markedly, against Paul’s own conflict – the ‘inner torment’ – between his inherited (and then reconstituted) theology and his homosexuality, the latter manifest in his relationship with Gentile friend Arsenios. Augustine once suggested, to the shock of some of his fellow bishops, that St Paul may have been ‘greatly tainted by sexual desires’. In his portrait of the gay Apostle Paul, Holmen exploits this suggestion beyond what the old bishop of Hippo may have had in mind, and some readers may well lay the book down because of such. But such action would, in my view, represent a premature judgement.

… Holmen is a gifted writer, and his well-researched yarn is certain to encourage readers to read the Bible in a new light, with a deepened awareness of the groundedness of its message, with a new appreciation of the real humanity of its figures, and – I suspect most importantly for the author – a renewed wonderment of the magic of divine grace.

Series of Vietnam short stories to be published

Obie with over-underI was discharged from Army active duty on Christmas eve, 1970, and I enrolled for winter term at Dartmouth College less than two weeks later.  I had spent 2+ years at Dartmouth before the military, so when I returned as a junior, I already had a circle of friends.

I also had Super 8 movies from Vietnam.  I had purchased a Super 8 camera from the An Khe PX and filmed about ten rolls (3+ minutes each) and sent them home without developing.  By the time I was back at Dartmouth, the films had been developed and spliced together to form one movie of about 30 minutes.  In those days, “cut and paste” was literally how you edited film.

One Saturday evening while hanging out at my favorite fraternity, I mentioned the movie, and we decided to watch it in a private room upstairs.  As curious passersby poked their heads in, we ended up watching the movie three times that night as word spread and more and more folks came to see.  This college crowd was genuinely anxious to know more.  The movie and my stories kept the swelling crowd spellbound, and at the end someone said, “You ought to write a book”.

Forty years later, I am finally taking that advice.  I have started to write stories based upon my Vietnam experiences, stories that are based on fact but which are embellished to make for good reading.  A year ago, I published a novel (A Wretched Man, a novel of Paul the apostle), and through that experience, I hope I have developed some of the writer’s craft (scene & setting, plot, character development, tension, etc.), and I have applied the techniques of storytelling to my Vietnam stories.  Thus, I call them “autobiographical fiction”.

Since most of the stories relate to my role as a “LRRP” (Long Range Reconnaissance Patrol), the series will be entitled LRRP Rangers Vietnam.  A “lurp” was the Vietnam equivalent of a cavalry scout; instead of mustangs, we rode helicopters to remote and unfriendly territory.  These stories will be published as eBook short stories, one at a time in serial form.  The first two are now published.  Be forewarned, the language is realistic and thus more than a little salty.

Eleven Bravo, the opening short story in the series, refers to the Army’s 11B designation for the combat infantryman.  After an brief scene in Tiger Village of Fort Polk, Louisiana (the primary training center for Vietnam-bound infantry), the story opens as a young soldier arrives in Vietnam while Neil Armstrong walks on the moon, and the story concludes nearly a month later as soldiers celebrate to the music of Jimi Hendrix at the same time the rock star is performing live at Woodstock.  Read more …

The second short story in the series is entitled Here Comes Charlie.  The soldier has now departed Alpha Company and volunteered for recon duty as a LRRP.  Themes of self-preservation and moral ambiguities, introduced in the first installment, are advanced as North Vietnamese soldiers unwittingly file toward four lurps hiding in the tall grass.  Read more …

The eBooks will be available in all formats at your favorite online eBook bookstore.

FYI, the movie was transferred to video tape years ago through the cumbersome process of using a video camera to record the movie from a screen.  Later, the videotape was converted to a DVD and now has been converted to online video formats and may be viewed on YouTube and here.