Monday, June 8, 2015

Blog Tour, Guest Post, eARC Review & #Giveaway: Palace Dog by R.E. Nelson

Palace Dog
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Cover Artist: Paul Richmond
Categories: Gay Fiction, Historical, M/M Romance
Pages or Words: 206 pages

In April 1975, as the government in Saigon is falling, Michael Andrews prepares to make his way back to Vietnam to find the love he was forced to leave. 
But Michael’s journey begins four years earlier. He joins the Air Force to keep out of the Army and out of Vietnam, but his first assignment is teaching English in Saigon to members of the Vietnamese military in an Army program called Palace Dog. 
As an artist, and a man, before his time in Vietnam, Michael found life lonely and unsatisfying. In the midst of war, Michael searches for direction and meaning. He ultimately finds love and hope with Thao, a young Vietnamese art student, only to have their already uncertain future wrenched from them when he is pulled out of the country. 
For Michael, his return in 1975 is inevitable and without question, though the outcome he hopes for is anything but assured.

Review by: Ray
My Rating: 3 of 5 Stars

Reading a novel set in Vietnam automatically becomes painful for any politically aware adult who lived through that era.  There were so many contradictions.  The country was at war, and men were dying—but the Secretary of Defense kept announcing that we weren’t in Vietnam to win a military victory.  We had superior air- and sea-power—but primary military targets in North Vietnam were off-limits.  The whole sorry affair affected the collective psyche of this country in a way that was not beneficial.

The story begins with Michael preparing to return to Vietnam.  The opening scene is somewhat confused and chaotic, but it’s impossible to tell whether that’s because of careless writing, or because Michael is a confused and somewhat screwed-up individual.

The story is no-less confusing when we flash back to Michael’s experiences in Vietnam four years earlier.  The reader is left wondering how this character survived, given the many stupid things he does, and the mistakes he makes.  In any case, Michael eventually meets, begins to have sex with, and ultimately falls in love with a Vietnamese national.  A man he has to leave behind when he is sent home.

To make a long story short, Michael does find the love of his life when he returns to Asia, and somehow manages to bring him back to America with him.

Along the way, we meet a few secondary characters, who are for the most part, much more interesting that the main character.

The writing in this book is at times awkward and unpolished, but then, so is the character. 
The story, despite its flaws, is compelling enough to rate 4 stars, but the writing only merits 2, and that pulls the rating down to 3 stars overall.

multitaskingmomma Book Review asks: This time in history is still such a painful subject for many but is, admittedly, an interesting historical event. What influenced you to use the Vietnam War as the background for this story, specifically the Palace Dog project?
Thank you!

I picked the Vietnam War and the Palace Dog program for the setting of the book PALACE DOG because it was easy for me and seemed the natural thing to do.  I was there at the same time the story takes place. While the story of Michael and Thao is fiction, the setting grew from my own experiences there.  I was a Palace Dog, like Michael.   At one time there were several hundred enlisted instructors in the program, I believe.  As I wrote Michael’s story, I came to feel like he and I were friends who were in the same time, same place, and doing the same or similar things.

In addition to my memories, I also have a lot of my own sources for the story.  I have photographs that are annotated as to place, time, and people, both from the school and from Saigon at that time.  I have a pocket calendar from that time that identified specific things happening on specific dates.  I also have close friends, both American and Vietnamese that I am still in contact with, that I used as sources for information related to things that happened in the story.  So using the Vietnam War in the early 1970’s and the Palace Dog program were natural for me.

Because of where I was and what I was doing, I think I also have what I feel may be a slightly different view of the war than others who were there in a different capacity.

In 1970, when the military draft lottery was in place (numbers were assigned based on birthdays), I knew my number was coming up and I would be called. That was an indeed frightening and stressful time for me.  I was finishing graduate school and at that time finding work was problematic as long as the possibility of being drafted loomed.  As a student, I did not harbor anti-war sentiment necessarily, nor was I in support of the conflict.  In fact I knew little about the war, other than the jarring headlines and body counts we had every day in the newspapers and on television.   So like Michael, I joined the Air Force to keep out of the Army (draftees were being sent to Viet Nam to fight) and out of Vietnam.  I committed to a 4-year enlistment, thinking I would have a safe desk job in the US.  As it turned out, my first assignment, like Michael’s, was to teach English for the Army in Viet Nam.  Not even the Air Force recruiter knew what to make of it.

But it turned out for me much like it turned out for Michael.  Yes, we were in Saigon, and the war was all around us, but it felt strangely safe there.  And I was able to connect with many of the local Vietnamese and grow meaningful relationships in spite of the circumstances surrounding us.  The issues related to the war no longer seemed black and white.  And feelings, pro and con, were suddenly complicated.  It was no longer simply about me or even my feelings about the US involvement there. As with Michael’s feelings about leaving Thao, I was concerned about what would happen to the Vietnamese people I had become close to and involved with on a personal level.

I realize not everyone who went there had the same experience.  Especially those who were involved in direct combat or in support of it.  It’s also possible that others who were with me in Saigon, teaching English at the Armed Forces Language School, have different recollections and feelings.

My time there gave me rich and meaningful experiences.  Writing PALACE DOG gave me a way to organize and share some of that in a fictional tale.


The cyclo had bumped across the bridge, following the curve in the road, then moved quickly down the final straight stretch, past houses and shops, past rows of trees and walls and occasional open spaces, past vendors who lined the street’s edge selling gasoline in glass bottles. Motorcycles, Lambretta mini-buses packed with people, cream-and-blue Renault taxis, pedestrians with baskets and boxes—all crowded the street. Noises, smells, and smoke came from everywhere, and as the driver increased his speed, I smiled, gripping the metal frame tighter and pushing slightly with my feet as the moist wind rushed around me.
Speeding through the streets of Saigon, wearing the green Air Force-issued jungle fatigues, my life of a year ago seemed unreal.

Rafflecopter Prize: E-copy of ‘Palace Dog’

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About the Author

R.E. Nelson was born in Texas and raised in Southern California. He has been writing for as long as he can remember. One of his earliest recollections related to writing is winning an essay contest in sixth grade--something patriotic about the American flag. When he travels, his preference is staying in select areas for an extended period of time and learning about that place. He has lived in both Vietnam (twice, actually) and Saudi Arabia, and also spent time in Egypt, South Korea, Shanghai (his only China visit thus far), and Dubai. Now he is happy to call San Francisco home.

Twitter: @RENelson13

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