You can read a compelling new interview with the author Bobbie Ann Mason on the Haunting Legacy Facebook page run by that book’s co-author Deborah Kalb. In the interview Mason—who received the VVA President’s Award for Excellence in the Arts at the 1989 National Convention— talks in depth about her excellent Vietnam War-themed novel, In Country, which was published to widespread critical and popular acclaim in 1985 and was made into a big Hollywood film in 1989 starring Emily Lloyd and Bruce Willis.
That book is set in Kentucky in the early-1980s when Mason wrote it. It centers on a teen-aged girl, Samantha Hughes, whose father was killed in the Vietnam War before she was born.
Sam Hughes, Mason says in the interview, “was in the first wave of the children of Vietnam vets who were coming of age and starting to ask questions. That’s when I knew there was an important story, a timeless tale. The search for the father. Telemachus searching for Odysseus after the Trojan War. This time it was Vietnam. And she was a girl.”
At first, Mason says, she was “intimidated by the challenge of writing about Vietnam. After all, I hadn’t been there. I didn’t even know anyone who had been there. It took a long time of trial and error, of searching, to get into what it was about the war that left its marks on the family.”
Mason said she didn’t read any Vietnam War history books to prepare for writing the novel. “Mostly,” she says, “I read oral histories and memoirs. Several prominent memoirs and oral histories appeared in the early eighties, as the [Vietnam Veterans] Memorial was urged into being and veterans began to speak out. The voices in those books—such as Charlie Company, Everything We Had, and Mark Baker’s Nam—were riveting and alive. There was a common experience, a common language. I could hear their voices as they reported their time in country. My Vietnam vet characters came alive in my imagination because of those eloquent voices telling about the hell they had been through. ”
Mason goes on to talk about how things have changed for Vietnam veterans in the last 25 years, the important role the Vietnam Veterans Memorial has in the book, and how she has been drawn to writing about the consequences of war in her work.
You can learn more about Bobbie Ann Mason and her work at her website.