Interview with Derald Hamilton, author of Twice Upon a Prequel… & Three Shorts
PBR: Why two prequels? Why not link them together rather than separately? It would have been interesting to contrast the two given their ages and beliefs.
Hamilton: Both stories were originally a part of my novel The Call. Then, during the editing process, one of my editors, Michelle Pollace, suggested that I revise them and make them separate works. And now that I’ve done so, I’m rather pleased with the results. These are two of the supporting characters in my novel that I deemed substantial enough to warrant their own stories. As for contrasting the two, I never considered that as an option. Elmo’s story comprises his entire life up to his entry into Parkins. With Reginald, we are only covering the summer before his entry into the seminary.
PBR: Why a seminary specifically set in Oklahoma? What fascinates you about that region?
Hamilton: It’s not a matter of it holding any fascination, just familiarity. The seminary I went to was in Oklahoma. Oklahoma is one of the states situated in what is termed as “The Bible Belt.” It’s one of the areas of the country I’ve become very familiar with and because I have familiarity with the area, I felt confident that I could lend an air of authenticity in my telling of the story.
When I was growing up in a military family, we moved around quite a bit and apart from a tour of Fort Dix, New Jersey and Kaiserslautern, Germany, many of my father’s assignments were in the South. And one thing you learn as a child living in the South is that you go to church. You also address your elders as Ma’am and Sir. It’s also an area where, during the sixties and seventies I discovered that corporal punishment in the schools was practiced very freely. It was considered a way of introducing the children to “fear of the Lord.” While there I learned that God was a paddle made of birch wood and I use to pray quite fervently not to be on its receiving end. And avoiding the sting of that paddle was a lot like walking a tightrope.
Not having lived in the South for the past thirty some years, I may be writing about a bygone era. But having followed the primaries, I managed to gain the impression that Oklahoma still remains what can be termed as a “red” state, and perhaps among the more conservative of the “red” states. And usually among the “red” states evangelical Christianity generally thrives. Of course evangelical Christianity is only one form of Christianity, just as the seminary atmosphere I portray has more than one form of student. Elmo Piggins is a product and representative of the more extreme right end, and Reginald Dexter, being Unitarian, is more the extreme left. And, as I was to discover during my four years in seminary, Oklahoma harbors both extremes.
PBR: A number of the characters seem to have military backgrounds in The Call and Prequels. Any particular reason for that?
Hamilton: “Taken Up Before The General,” although couched in fiction, could very well be considered an autobiographical snap shot. It’s based on an incident that happened to me back when we were stationed in Kaiserslautern, Germany. And what happened is typical of a military setting. You’re considered guilty until proven innocent. And you don’t admit an error, even when you’re proven wrong. Apologizing is taboo. Fighting among the youth is considered a rite of passage. And above everything else you’d better salute that @#$% flag.
As for “The War Comes Home,” I based the character of Laura Porter mostly upon my Mom, although she could be a composite of a number of military wives I’ve known during my life. However, most of those wives were the ones raised back in the day when you were taught that a wife is to be submissive, and perhaps subservient to her husband. This usually meant that as one who was saddled with a military husband, she had the definite role of buffer between her husband and her children – the peacekeeper as it were.
Fellow military brat Mary Edward Wersch in her book, “Military Brats” cites, in many instances, the military wife as the husband’s appeaser. She also serves as the family historian and often times any revision of what actually happens is brought about solely by her professed recollections. For instance, in the Pat Conroy novel, “The Great Santini,” young Ben Meachum is seen confronting his mother over a beating she received when her husband was in the throes of a drunken rage. She denied remembering the incident until Ben showed her the garment she was wearing at the time and the blood stains that would not wash out. Pat Conroy goes even further with this form of maternal portrayal in his novel “The Prince of Tides.” In this novel the mother is portrayed as imposing enforced denial on both herself and her children when anything bad happened. A good example of this dynamic is illustrated during the rape sequence when the mother, the protagonist (a boy), and his younger sister are raped by local ruffians. The ruffians are eventually confronted and killed by the older brother, but after the incident, her mother instructs the children to forget about this incident–IT NEVER HAPPENED! But it did happen, and during the course of this enforced denial, tragic circumstance occurred. But, too often that’s the lot of the military wife–at least during that generation. As my mother often put it, “We were taught that once you make your bed you lie in it.” And their parents must have taught them well. Of course I don’t know if this trend still exists.
I remember back during the sixties I had a cousin who married a military man, and she filed for a divorce while he was doing a tour of Vietnam. Also, I heard that Pat Conroy’s mother eventually filed for divorce and used her son’s novel “The Great Santini” as grounds for it. Also, there was a film made recently entitled “The General’s Daughter.” In this film it is the daughter who follows in her father’s footsteps and is among the first of the female cadets to enter West Point. While she is attending West Point and out on military maneuvers, she is gang raped multiple times by her fellow male cadets. While in the hospital she is instructed by her father the General to forget the incident ever happened…but she can’t forget. And it’s this suppressed memory that leads to her undoing.
As for Laura Porter, my beleaguered protagonist, I conclude right before her confrontation with the actual crisis. And there most likely will be a crisis. After all, military men often times want their children to be like them, and Laura’s husband is about to find out that his son, a supposed all-American sports enthusiast is now a ballerina, and his sweet sixteen and never been kissed daughter is now nineteen, living in sin with her boyfriend, and protesting the war he’s been fighting. Also, throughout the story, you can sense that Laura, the consummate giver and appeaser, is beginning to buckle under the strain. It’s kind of reminiscent of the Emmy Lou Harris song, “To Daddy.”
In The Call I tended it more as a commentary on institutionalism, contrasting their likenesses. I’ve often found it amazing how God is always dragged into the picture for the sake of justification. So for me, the running of both church and the armed forces tended to write their own satire.
PBR: How do you think that The Call would fare in other media?
Hamilton: I’ve been told by a few people who have read it that it might make a good movie. So, if it might do well in movies, I would think it could do well as a television series, although I do harbor certain reservations about the notion. The Paper Chase, a series about law school only lasted for one season. Also I remember back in the fifties there was this television series called Crossroads. This series dealt with problems and conflicts faced by clergymen. The series was a success. Of course in light of the fact that the fifties was considered the “buttoned down” generation, and given the material in The Call I could see that varying modifications would need to be made. Also, I believe there was another television series pertaining to the Catholic Church that was on the air briefly during the nineties that my church advised us not to watch because of the salacious and irreverent content. I believe The Call might be subject to a similar fate. Even though I base my novel on the surroundings and interactions I heard and experienced during the time I was in seminary, certain revelations might best be kept under wraps. Already an elder in my church has read my novel, and he said he was “saddened” by it, especially the scene where one seminarian forcibly took another seminarian’s cot during a retreat. So, I’m more optimistic about its success in the cinema than I am about trying as a vehicle for a television series.
PBR: Are there any plans to a sequel of The Call? Or more novellas?
Hamilton: No. I do have plans in the offing for another novel, but it’s on a totally unrelated topic.
PBR: Elmo is an interesting character, and one of the supporting characters in the book. Any particular reason you chose him out of the characters you could have chosen?
Hamilton: I based the character on a few people I knew while I was in seminary. And there was one in particular who held similar attributes and background. And I’m not going to say anymore at this juncture. I don’t want to get sued. So, I’ll simply reiterate my disclaimer that my story is fiction and any similarities to any people living or dead is purely coincidental. If it worked for the guy who wrote “The Greek Tycoon,” it ought to work for me. But like the Sinclair Lewis character, I kept waiting for this guy to get him comeuppance. And like the derisive Elmer Gantry, he never did, at least as far as I could tell.
PBR: As a child of the 70’s there are certain aspects of his background that ring familiar. Did you attempt to make his story a statement of the times?
Hamilton: Most of Elmo’s story took place in the seventies. But yes, although I’m more inclined to believe the statements found in this novella are not necessarily exclusive to this present era. Sinclair Lewis’ “Elmer Gantry” makes a similar statement, and I believe the backdrop of that story was the twenties and thirties. So there are some features that remain timeless. For instance, I believe it was back in the late nineteenth century, a venerable showman by the name of P.T. Barnum was quoted as saying, “There’s a sucker born every minute.” And given the current political scene here in America and the incidents that are highlighted in the news, I’m lead to conclude that there is a large part of the American psyche that enjoys being conned. And deep down, although he projects a strong aura of sincerity and conviction at the conclusion of the novella, I think young Elmo knows he is someone on the giving end of that dynamic.
PBR: Is Reginald in it strictly for the meditative purposes, or has he received an actual call of his own?
Hamilton: Probably neither. Reginald is still a healthy and hardy individual whose chronological age is working against him from a societal standpoint. He would have probably been content to continue teaching Psychology for another twenty years, but university policy dictates he must retire. Consequently, he’s now looking for other things to do to fill up his time, to give the rest of his life purpose and meaning, and to rise above the dictates of societal restrictions. I find his story particularly telling at this time in my life. I’m presently retired, and from what I’ve been told, the average length of time I may have left would tally around six thousand days. It’s how I choose to spend this time that will dictate my longevity. It’s been said that upon retiring, sound personal hygiene recommends that you have at least five hobbies you are passionate about to assure your continuance. I presently have two well established hobbies and am looking at a third. So I’m inclined to look to Reginald Dexter as a model, and like Reginald, I choose not to, in the words of Dylan Thomas, “Go gentle into that good night.”
PBR: Eleanor is an interesting study of a woman with her own life. Will we be seeing more of her?
Hamilton: I really haven’t considered any further plans for Eleanor. I have another book in the planning stages, but my plans entail an entirely new cast of characters. Of course I do intend on trying to continue to create strong female characters. And painful as it may be, I will continue to examine the world from their perspective. As Dustin Hoffman was quoted as saying near the end of his movie Tootsie, “I was more a man as a woman than I’d ever been as a man.” Of course even though the movie was a comedy, that quote carried for me very deep and moving insight as to the structure of our human psyche. And this insight is not something we men often feel comfortable availing ourselves.
PBR: What Reginald is doing seems almost a rite of passage. Is he finally becoming a man, even if it is late in life?
Hamilton: I rather believe he’s trying to keep from growing old before he feels it’s his time to grow old. There are many instances when old age is something that is socially imposed, but taken on a person by person basis it’s highly subjective as to when old age really begins. I mean look at George Burns. He was still going strong at ninety. He outlived his wife by nearly fifty years and, based on what I read on the man, he was still sexually active right up to the last. At first I didn’t know whether or not it would be credible to have a 65 year old man sky dive for the first time. So, at age 56 I tried it and yes, it can be done. However, I made Reginald more a man than me, because I’ll probably never try it again. I mean, even though I was strapped with an instructor, I still found it to be scary as hell.
PBR: Is there a particular model for Dr. Green?
Hamilton: No. But somebody had to be a guide for Reginald’s “Rite of Passage.”
PBR: “Taken Up Before the General” and “The War Comes Home” are interesting character studies. Were they linked at any point, or were they completely stand-alone?
Hamilton: They were completely stand alone pieces. One examines matters from the perspective of a child/adolescent having to contend with the rules, restrictions, and expectations placed upon him in the “fortress” setting. The other examines what I found to be the all-too-common plight of the military wife. And to this I’d like to add that writing “The War Comes Home” I found to be a rather painful exercise in that I had to place myself in the female mind-set. And that’s a hard thing for a man to do. A woman can place herself in the mind-set of a man far more easily than a man can place himself into a female mind-set. We men often put up our defenses with such statements as “There ain’t no way to understand a woman.” The problem is we don’t dare try to understand the female point of view, because for us to do so would mean to call our own masculine identity into question, and force ourselves to reevaluate our own male mind-set.
For instance, when I was still a child I observed that the male species rarely, if ever, admitted they were wrong. Offering up an apology was considered a sign of weakness. And above all else, men were not supposed to cry. It was considered manly to be able to hold your liquor, puff on that cigar, cuss, and take charge. Even today I see this trend being played out. I remember finding this one piece of the internet entitled “I’m A Bad American” and one line in it said “I’m not in touch with my feelings and I like it that way.” So, even getting an ulcer is considered to be somewhat macho. But for us to get into a woman’s mind-set might mean having to look at ourselves in a different light, to reevaluate our preconceived notions of what comprises manhood, to bring to the forefront the forbidden attributes of tenderness and compassion and other sissy stuff. But mostly, we’d be forced to conclude that we’re not all that hot and that we may be our own worst enemies continually touting about our masculine facade. After all, we need them far more than they need us. And that’s a terrible pill for a “real man” to swallow. So, in my having written this story, I believe I may have charted into forbidden territory.
“The War Comes Home” is the third story I’ve tried to write from a female perspective, and I have to say, in all honesty, it doesn’t get any easier. The first time I contemplated doing this was after attending a seminar at a place called “The Writer’s Connection.” The topic of that seminar was entitled, “Writing the Romance Novel.” A few of the speakers had been successfully published authors of Harlequin Temptations and Silhouette Desire. Their writing was labeled as eroticism from a female perspective. I left this seminar early concluding that I could never write something like that. But then, after doing a bit of soul searching I chanced upon the notion that even if female eroticism was an issue that I didn’t feel comfortable addressing, there were other aspects of the female mindset that might be worth exploring. And who knows? Maybe it might make me better equipped as a potential marriage partner if I ever chose to embark upon that venture a second time. Of course, so far I haven’t quite been that brave.
PBR: Any particular inspiration for “Little Bit of Wisdom”?
Hamilton: Nothing in particular. I was riding in the bus one day and saw a piece of paper blowing by. The writer in me just took hold. And based on the feedback I’ve received thus far, it must have done a pretty decent job of doing so.
Check out the review of Twice Upon a Prequel…& Three Shorts at; https://portlandbookreview.com/twice-upon-a-prequel-three-shorts/
Derald Hamilton was born in Santa Cruz, California His father was a career soldier who fell in love with Army life during World War II. His mother worked as both a secretary and an accountant. He continues freelance writing, has four of his short stories published, along with non-fiction articles, and his two most recent novels; The Call and Twice Upon a Prequel…& Three Shorts. Derald still lives in the Bay Area of northern California and enjoys playing his banjo in bluegrass and old time jam sessions.