About the first two books written by Colonel Jim Roper, USAF, Retired
Why did you write Quoth the Raven?
I carried the story around in my head a long time. Combat memories don't fade away, but opening the door to that part of my life didn't happen quickly. I wanted to remember, in some permanent way, the terrific individuals I knew who died performing the FAC (Forward Air Controller) job in the Vietnam conflict. The saying, "No one dies until he is forgotten," is very real to me. The death of my best friend, D. Craig Morrison, in a T-6 crash in 1994 reminded me that life is fragile. So I began to write and keep the memory of fallen FAC brothers alive.
So is this history or just a story?
History. But I wrote it in scenes and used dialogue to move the story forward--like a novel. The mode is Creative Non-fiction. The creative part comes in the selection of words of dialogue to represent as closely as I can remember the essence of those exchanges.
My career was atypical of most USAF pilots. Between 1970 and 1975 I lived in South Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia and flew combat missions over all three countries. The fighter pilot inside me finally got to fly the F-111. This involved a great deal of low-level flying at altitudes I had roamed as a FAC. However, instead of being a flying target at 80 knots in my Cessna, the F-111 was balls to the wall, hair on fire, treetop dashes at Mach 1.4. From there I wanted to fly down and dirty in the A-10 Warthog, ready to bust Russian tanks in Central Europe. But the USAF personnel pukes said I'd already had my fun, and they thought it was my turn to fly a desk. I balked. We compromised. They said I could have my Warthog assignment--but only after a tour as an Air Liaison Officer with an Army Ranger Battalion. So I spent two eye-opening years as a speck of blue in a sea of green. That experience included jumping with the Rangers from the first C-130 over Grenada and a personal handshake from President Ronald Reagan.
Your style is terse. Is that intentional?
I've been accused of underwriting. Quoth the Raven carries a strong subtext. While I offer the whole story, including emotional impacts and feelings of the characters, I try to show the reader a picture of the world as it came into my windscreen. I leave a lot of conclusions to the reader.
Did you make up any of the events?
No. All this stuff really happened.
Describe the effect your writing has had on you.
Like many writers of memoirs, I can use words like cathartic and therapeutic to describe the experience. Giving my Vietnam combat a beginning and an end allowed me to see it more objectively. Penning my experiences, I learned things that had escaped my realization when the events were hidden in my head. I learned the landing traffic pattern around the runway at Pleiku was as dangerous as the Ho Chi Minh Trail. I learned that my airstrikes in northern Laos had wiped out around a thousand North Vietnamese soldiers.
What have you learned since you started writing?
Writing is a continual learning process. When I thought I was done, I'd only just begun. I had a lot of help from friends and established authors. Everyone has a story to tell, but not everyone has the time to work and study their craft to the publishable level.
Are the characters real?
The good guys are quite real. I left unnamed or changed the names of the guilty bastards--my bad guys. I didn't set out to hurt anyone who served in Vietnam.
Where are you from? Has your upbringing colored your writing?
I grew up in Louisiana and Indiana. I suppose I brought strong Midwestern values to the story. My father was a fighter crew chief during World War II. So a military flying career was in my head as long as I can remember. My perspective as a writer comes from years in the fighter pilot world.
What music do you like? Did any of it inspire your writing?
For sure, oldies from the late nineteen sixties take me back to Vietnam. Maybe that's why I prefer classical music. (The last sentence is an example of subtext.) I once heard a music critic describe Mozart's piano concertos as "perfect." I agree and feel the same about Beethoven piano sonatas and Haydn's last twelve symphonies. I listen to classical music to relax between writing sessions.
Who is your favorite author?
Dr. Jim Titus at Air University put me onto Paul Fussell, and I got hooked. When I read that his experience in World War II had introduced him to the "shakiness of civilization," I felt a kinship. His use of brutally honest story-telling to produce humor and irony is a level of writing that I aspire to.
Are you working on any other writing projects?
My second book-- Aardvarks and Rangers --that covers the parachute jump and combat in Grenada in 1983. It starts in a warm and dry F-111 cockpit, then enters the cold and wet world of the Army Rangers where I was assigned as Air Liaison Officer. I think I found my voice in Quoth the Raven and had some fun writing Aardvarks and Rangers, which also won a prize in the Pikes Peak Writers Conference Contest.
A substory in Aardvarks is the personnel system, which crunches duty assignments according to the needs of the Air Force. Also, women are more prevalent than in QTR, but, like airplanes, they don't always do what the pilot expects. Read the reviews.
I'm currently researching untold facets of the fall of Cambodia.
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