Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Guest Blog: The Genesis of Dragon Lady by Gary Alexander

Istoria Books Presents...
Dragon Lady
by Gary Alexander
April 2011

NOTE: This book is available for only 99 cents up until the end of this week (April 1 - no joke!) exclusively at Amazon’s Kindle store. After that, it will be available at all major etailers for its regular price of $4.99!

In 1965 Saigon, Joe, a young draftee, becomes obsessed with a Vietnam girl named Mai, his own "Dragon Lady" from his beloved Terry and the Pirates cartoon strips that his mother still sends him. As he pursues a relationship with her, Saigon churns with intrigue and rumors--will the U.S. become more involved with the Vietnamese struggle? What's going on with a special unit that's bringing in all sorts of (for the time) high tech equipment? Will the U.S. make Vietnam the 51st state and bomb aggressors to oblivion? But for Joe, the big question is--does Mai love him or will she betray more than just his heart? Gary Alexander’s intelligent voice, filled with dry wit, and his own experiences give this story a sharp sense of truth, recounting the horror and absurdity of war. Reminiscent of books such as Catch-22, Dragon Lady serves up equal measures of outrageous humor and poignant remembrance. Gary Alexander was one of 17,000 US soldiers in Vietnam that spring. When he left in the fall, there were 75,000 troops in-country.

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You can read an interview with Gary at the Istoria Books blog: http://istoriabooks.blogspot.com/2011/03/interview-with-irreverent-goldbrick.html

The Genesis of Dragon Lady
By Gary Alexander

I began having doubts about our entanglement in South Vietnam years before I knew I
wanted to be a writer when I grew up.

In fact, I began having doubts two hours before arriving there. Fresh meat, including me, was on a Boeing 707 from Travis AFB, CA to Saigon’s Tan Son Nhut airport. It was a long island-hopping flight, on which they didn’t feed us for 10-12 hours.  

Then they fed us twice in the last three hours. Hmm.

Duty was pretty good for most GIs in mid-1964. I don’t recall it yet being called the Vietnam War. We were even drawing $55 hazardous duty pay. We joked that the only hazardous duty we faced was being in a bar spending that extra $55 when a satchel of plastique was slung in.

Lost a few GIs that way, but not too many. I always wondered if the next-of-kin were presented Purple Hearts and got write-ups in the local paper.

The last war we’d been in was Korea. No, wait, that was a limited war or, more commonly called, a police action. Therefore it didn’t count, despite ending as a blood-drenched draw.

Our last war was WW II. We’d won every war from then back to the first, the Revolutionary War. We had a 163-year winning streak going.

No steamy, third world backwater was gonna break that string!

Prior to shipping out, we had to look on a map for South Vietnam and knew little of its history. We knew Vietnam had had another war that had ended 10 years earlier. The Commies had kicked the French’s ass at some place out in the boonies called Dien Bien Phu. That was France, though, not the United States of America.

Most of us did believe in the Domino Theory and the spreading danger of godless Communism. But we weren’t any more or less naïve than our superiors, all the way up the line to the White House.

Regardless, armed conflict seemed an abstraction. Really, who was the enemy? Just a ragtag mob of illiterate Marxists, sneaking around in the jungle in their black pajamas and Ho Chi Minh sandals*, which were thongs made of old tires.

Saigon then was still the Paris of the Orient. To us young troops, it was unimaginably exotic. Not Saigon’s sprawling, fetid slums we managed to ignore, but downtown, at and near fashionable Tu Do Street. You could spend more money eating and drinking and whoring in a single evening on Tu Do than the average Vietnamese earned in a month.

If the Vietcong guerrillas wanted to live in malarial swamps living on fish heads and rice, so what? That was their problem. We had French cuisine in downtown Saigon.

As for the beyond-exotic Vietnamese woman, the DragonLadyesque temptress, well, she was far less attainable than a Crêpe Suzette.

Lovely Saigonese women abounded. In their traditional áo dὰi, a silken tunic worn over pantaloons, they were head-turners. Once I saw a striking young lady in an áo dài riding sidesaddle on the back of a Honda motorbike. I walked into a lamppost.

Wisely, 99 percent of those beauties had nothing to do with us.

* I Googled “Ho Chi Minh sandals” and found a site that sells “100% authentic Ho Chi
Minh sandals, identical to the footwear worn by the Vietcong during the Vietnam War”.
They’re handmade near Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon).

Thank you Gary for joining us today.  My review of Dragon Lady will be coming later today and don't forget that you can get this book for $0.99 between now and April 1!


Susanne said...

Lovely essay, Gary. I'm looking forward to reading this. Have you read Tree of Smoke, by any chance? Only that it takes place in the same part of the world, and is very atmospheric.

Libby Sternberg said...

It's a wonderful book, Susanne. Gary has an incredibly dry wit and a very "humane" cynicism. As my daughter pointed out when we were discussing this book, a lot of literary writers seem to aim for a cynical voice almost for the sake of sounding jaded. Gary's voice crackles with cynicism but is undergirded (is that a word?) with a warm humaneness.

alexagr61 said...

Thanks, Susanne. I'll de3finitely check out Tree of Smoke.

alexagr61 said...

Thaqnks for the kind words, Susanne. I'll definitely check out Tree of Smoke.

alexagr61 said...

Hi Crystal,

Thanks again for having me. I hope you enjoy the book and that's reflected in your review. If you don't, do you accept bribes? :)

alexagr61 said...

Hi Crystal,

Thanks for the complimentary review. I'll take 4.5 stars out of 5 any time.

Like Libby, you understood what I was saying. So many editors and agents over the years dismissed it as a war story, often without getting far into it.
It's an ANTI-WAR story!

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