I’d like to welcome B.R.A.G. Medallion Honoree Yancy Caruthers today to talk with me about his book, Northwest of Eden. Yancy (1971- ) is an Iraq war veteran, registered nurse, and retired Army Reserve officer. After 9/11, he was mobilized to active duty three times, two of which were in a war zone. While he wasn’t off doing something with the Army, he worked on a helicopter ambulance service in southern Missouri, where he grew up. After leaving the service in 2008, he continued to serve his country as a diplomat assigned to tours in Peru and The Bahamas. He retired and returned to Missouri in July 2015, but is currently looking for things to keep himself busy.
How did you discover indieBRAG?
I stumbled across the Readers’ Favorite Awards a while back but couldn’t remember the name of it. In the process of searching, I discovered indieBRAG and was impressed with their process. I loved the concept – the greatest thing about self-publishing is that anyone can do it. That is also the worst thing about self-publishing. In the absence of a formal quality control process, what BRAG is doing brings some sanity to the chaos.
Please tell me about your book, Northwest of Eden.
It’s the first-person account of my experience during my second deployment to Iraq as the second-in-command of a combat ER. I wanted to tell everything – the terror, the tragedy, and the humor, because life is like that. This place is a boiled-down, super-concentrated version of life. Everything there matters, especially the things that don’t. The raw material I had for the story – the characters, the plot, the setting, were all phenomenal. I just hope I did it justice.
What is a humorous moment in your story?
The prank wars started early, and I knew there was no point in trying to avoid participation. I think Jon Koen fired the first shot. He was the senior enlisted person in the section, so he ran the day-to-day implementation. Jon had pranked one of the guys and he came to me asking for ideas about how to get revenge. I reminded him that the center of an Oreo cookie looked like Colgate toothpaste, and he managed to trick Jon into eating one. The war-within-a-war continued through the entire ten-month deployment.
Tell me a little about how your team worked together.
We didn’t just work together, we ate together, slept together, goofed off together. My guys trusted each other, they trusted me, and they trusted our officer-in-charge, Maria Tackett. Maria is the Director of Emergency Services/Neurotrauma at Hartford Hospital, so she knew her stuff. When a trauma patient came in, everyone just knew what to do, based on whatever others were already doing. Nobody angrily yelled instructions at anyone, it wasn’t like Full Metal Jacket. I told people what I wanted, but I never had to tell them what to do. It’s a subtle distinction, but my guys were always thinking, planning. Plotting.
Please tell me a little about the conditions in the desert.
It’s so bright that sunglasses aren’t optional, and the dust is a living, breathing thing that you can’t stop fighting but can never defeat. The heat is the worst. If you hold your hand up to your mouth about an inch away, the air feels warm when you exhale. At above 115 F (46 C), the air feels cool on your hand. I’ve been out in it when it was 134 F (56 C). Your face feels like you are too close to the fireplace, but you can’t get away from that feeling. Most dry saunas are 135-140. Imagine being in one for hours wearing a couple of layers of clothes. Oh, and add a 50-pound (23kg) armored vest.
Great title for your story! How did you come up with it?
Northwest of Eden’s title came to me when I was about six years into it – according to Biblical lore, the Garden of Eden was supposed to be at the mouths of the four great rivers, two of which, the Tigris and the Euphrates, still exist today. Iraq lies northwest of the place where those two rivers meet. Of course, it’s also a play on East of Eden, the Steinbeck novel that became a James Dean movie.
Who designed your book cover?
My best friend since second grade worked as the marketing director for a casino, so he had graphic design experience and had even done TV commercials. I had a few ideas for what I wanted and he pretended to follow them, then gave me something better than I could have designed on my own. I was honored that he agreed to do it and I think he felt the same way.
When you’re stuck on a scene in your story, what do you do?
I don’t let myself get stuck. If I arrive at a place and the words in my head freeze up, I type a sentence or two in brackets about where I would like the scene to go, and then I skip on to the next part. I also make it a point to NEVER stop writing at one of these spots. When I stop writing for the day, I know exactly what I want to say the second I get back to the keyboard. It ignites the spark for the next session, and it keeps the ideas active inside my head.
What are you working on next?
I had so much fun writing my own story, I decided to put together a collection of true stories from other veterans. Medic! is a six part series of stand-alone reads – from a field medic or corpsman from each of the living wars – WW2, Korea, Vietnam, Desert Storm, Iraq, and Afghanistan. I did Part 4 first and it’s out as an e-book. Part 5 is waiting for a cover and Part 2 is in the throes of editing. I’m currently conducting interviews with a WW2 veteran who was 15 on D-Day, and a young man who is currently deployed to Afghanistan and was in first grade on 9/11.
Do you stick with just genre?
I write what I know. After spending twenty years in the U.S. Army Reserve, I know a lot about that life that civilians don’t. War is a prolonged and intense thing, and as a result it has produced some of the greatest literature of all time. I hope that my work will someday be seen as a part of that history.
Where in your home do you like to write and what is your process?
My writing space is set up in the garage, as it turns out we have too much stuff to put a car in there anyway. I like to put a few sentences on the page, a sort of quasi-outline. Then I fill the blanks in-between. I draft very quickly – it isn’t unusual for me to crank out 1k words in an hour – but then I spend the next two days editing it. I’ll work on something for a couple of hours at a time in three of four sessions each week. The rest of my free time I waste with social media.
Is there a particular hobby you enjoy when you’re not writing?
I do all sorts of things and most of them aren’t productive. I retired in July, but I’m just 44 so I don’t know what to do with myself. I’m already making plans to come out of retirement and work in consulting for a utility services company just so I will be out interacting with people. The work is fun and I’m helping make the world’s carbon footprint smaller at the same time.
We are delighted that Stephanie has chosen to interview Yancy Caruthers who is the author of, Northwest of Eden, our medallion honoree at indieBRAG . To be awarded a B.R.A.G. Medallion TM, a book must receive unanimous approval by a group of our readers. It is a daunting hurdle and it serves to reaffirm that a book such as, Northwest of Eden, merits the investment of a reader’s time and money.