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interview with derald W. hamilton
Twice Upon a Prequel & Three Shorts
Derald W. Hamilton
Today, Rebecca’s Reads is interviewing Derald Hamilton about his new novella/short story collection “Twice Upon a Prequel...and Three Shorts.”
Derald Hamilton was born in Santa Cruz, California. Belonging to a military family, Derald moved around a lot to such bases as Fort Leonardwood, Missouri, Fort Chaffee, Arkansas, Fort Polk, Louisiana, Fort Benning, Georgia, Fort Lee, Virginia, Fort Dix, New Jersey, Fort Sill, Oklahoma, and one overseas tour in Kaiserslautern, Germany. While in Germany, he visited such places as Belgium, Luxemburg, Switzerland, and Austria, as well as the expanse of Germany.
After high school, Derald enrolled in community college where he took a course in creative writing. His colleagues and fellow students found him too young, callow, and naïve to write credibly, and this criticism caused him to put aside his aspirations. After graduating from community college, Derald transferred to U.C. Davis where he majored in American Studies and became active in the campus Christian program.
During the time he was active in that program, Derald received what he interpreted as a call to the ministry. However, lacking the funds necessary to continue his studies, Derald worked on a series of temporary jobs and finally landed himself a permanent clerical position with The State of California. After working for about a year-and-a-half with the State, he saved enough to continue his studies, and enrolled in Phillips Graduate Theological Seminary in pursuit of a Master’s of Divinity Degree. While pursuing this degree, he became disillusioned, perceiving the church atmosphere to be a hotbed of politics and competitive showmanship.
A few years later, Derald pursued a Master’s Degree in Library Science. He earned the degree, but found library jobs to be quite scarce, so he took an administrative support job, this time with the Santa Clara Valley Transit Authority, where he worked for thirty some years, then retired.
Derald continued freelance writing, and at the age of forty, decided he had done enough living to lend credibility to fiction writing. He has since been able to have four of his short stories published, along with non-fiction articles, and, while now in his sixties, has recently published his first novel “The Call” and his second book comprised of two novellas and three short stories which he has entitled “Twice Upon a Prequel...and Three Shorts.” Today, we will talk to him about his anthology.
RR: Thank you for the honor of interviewing you today, Derald. It’s been a long journey for you to become a published author, so tell me first, how does it feel finally to have achieved being an author and being interviewed about your writing?
Derald: The honor is mine. It’s like achieving a life-long dream. And what’s even more satisfying about this achievement is that after enduring years of negative feedback like “Why don’t you go out and have some fun? Take in a ballgame? Indulge in some extreme kind of sport? Why do you waste your time writing garbage and playing that banjo?” After enduring all that feedback over the years, I feel I can point to my two works of fiction, “The Call” and “Twice Upon A Prequel” and say, “There. That’s the reason.” Of course, I know my struggles are not over. Like most writers, I harbor the fear of being relegated to silence. So, now I have to embark on an even more difficult task—convincing the public that I have something that’s worthy of their attention—and marketing and sales have never been my strong suit. But so far, all the reviews I’ve received have been positive and have reinforced the notion that what I have written does constitute a worthwhile read and a worthy contribution to the annals of literature. So now it just becomes a question of how to go about convincing the public as a whole to read it and test it out. And to do that I need to give good reasons for the public to invest its time and energy in the reading of my works. And that’s not an easy call. Something has to be in it for them. I’m told the most popular books on the market today are “how to” books. Everybody wants to know how to do one thing or another. My work may come close to fulfilling this end. I read one review of my “Twice Upon A Prequel” and it stated that my stories provided interesting insights and lessons on life. I guess there’s a little “how to” feature there, but mine’s not a “how to.” Mine’s fiction. And fiction does not give you step by step directions. Fiction relies upon what you, the reader, bring to the table, how you interact with the scenario, and what meaning you take away. So, I might want to say to prospective readers such things as, “Do you want to enhance your wisdom? Would you like to broaden your perspective on life? Would you like to view life from a different vantage point? ‘Twice Upon A Prequel & Three Shorts’ is here to show you the way.” It may not be as cut and dry as a “how to” book, but if your inclination is more toward the abstract than the concrete, perhaps it might fill a similar need.” And if I can achieve that end for a major portion of my readers, I can feel a certain sense of satisfaction in my endeavor.
Also, I’d like to add my comment to the criticism that I ought to take up an extreme sport. One of my editors, Kimberly Rufer-Bach by name, familiarized me with one of her essays that highlighted writing as perhaps the most dangerous of professions, hobbies, and pastimes. And she’s right in making that claim. A writer is a thief who steals scenes, and is constantly at risk of getting caught and facing severe consequences such as lawsuits, alienation from friends and family, and being left open to all sorts and forms of personal vendettas. So, for all you adrenaline junkies out there, potential consequences such as these tends to make extreme sports pale by comparison.
RR: Tell me about your interesting book title “Twice Upon a Prequel...and Three Shorts.” Why did you settle on that title?
Derald: “Twice Upon a Prequel” consists of two novellas that take two of my secondary characters from “The Call” and tells of what transpires in their lives before embarking upon seminary. “Three Shorts” are three short fiction pieces I used as fillers to give my readers more for their money.
RR: Since two of the stories are prequels to “The Call,” will you tell us a little about your book “The Call”?
Derald: Yes. It’s a satirical novel with a little bit of the supernatural thrown in to enhance the story. It’s about a young man named Ishmael O’Donnell who is purportedly possessed by the soul of his long dead identical twin Isaac. Many have asked me if the novel was autobiographical because a lot of Ishmael’s experiences parallel my own. Ishmael is the son of an Army colonel who wishes his son to follow in his footsteps and expends great efforts to groom him to fit the image. But Ishmael never even comes close to his father’s expectations. Instead, during college, Ishmael experiences what he interprets as a call to the ministry. Ultimately this “call” takes him to seminary. The rest of the novel more or less portrays what goes on in cloistered halls as the “ministers in-training” are taken through the three-year Masters of Divinity program. Many of my reviewers have said that the way I portray the seminary environment is not what they expected, but here again I base it on what I observed the seminary environment to be and many of the characters portrayed within the context of my novel are composites of people I knew who went through the program, although I might add a disclaimer here and state that my novel is fiction and any resemblance to anyone within the context of the novel, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
But getting back to your question, Ishmael’s quest while pursuing a seminary education rests not with simply the answering of a perceived “call” but also with an undertaking to attain a sense of purification after being coerced by his father to take on what he perceived as a thoroughly distasteful task. However, the longer Ishmael remains within the cloistered confines, the more he is led to discover that he might not truly be in the proper place to achieve this latter objective. Many of his colleagues he perceives to be even more messed up than he is. They come across as being so driven, tenacious, over-the-top, and supercilious, it’s almost painful to be around them. And compounding Ishmael’s problems is the mocking voice of the one who possesses him—his dual soul as it were.
Of course, Ishmael does eventually attain his purification, and the source of this purification is from something you’d least expect. It all comes across as a rather bitterly sardonic commentary on the human condition.
RR: Do you think people need to read “The Call” first to appreciate the two related stories in “Twice Upon a Prequel...and Three Shorts”?
Derald: No. You can read the books in any order you choose. I believe the two novellas are complete works in and of themselves. It’s not like I’m writing serial fiction or anything. I do allude to certain events in “The Call” that takes place in the two novellas, and some of my more astute readers might pick up on this feature. But even if they don’t, it still won’t detract from the reading of the novel or vice versa.
RR: What made you decide to write these prequels?
Derald: Well, originally the two prequels were part of “The Call.” Then one of my editors, Michelle Pollace, advised me to cut them from the novel because it made the novel too long. And she was right. The original novel consisted of over 1100 pages. Then she advised me to present them as separate entities because the stories appeared to be complete in and of themselves. And, based on the outcome, I believe she was right.
RR: Your novel and your stories (novellas really) are all quite long except one that I understand is only a few short pages. Do you find it harder to write really short stories or novels or novellas, or do they all have different requirements and difficulties in your opinion?
Derald: That depends on what I have to write about or what I’m trying to convey. For instance, my longer short story “Taken Up Before The General” is a semi-autobiographical piece couched in fiction. This feature necessitated my being more detail conscious with regards to the events that transpired within the story’s context. “A Litter Bit of Wisdom,” on the other hand, is more a parable that might benefit from a more condensed format, a parable, of course, being a worldly story with other worldly applications. In this instance, what is the roll of the wayward napkin? Is it truly an entity singled out for the fulfillment of divine commission, or just a worthless piece of paper that inadvertently caused a major tragedy because some old geezer was too lazy to pick it up? As for “The War Comes Home,” that’s a piece that’s sandwiched in-between the two. This story portrays a scenario I’ve seen played out numerous times during my childhood, all the way up through my early twenties. Why I couldn’t write about it then was due to the fact that the subject matter hit too close to home and the reality was too painful for me even to face, let alone write about. But I feel a certain sense of cathartic release after having finally done so. In the portrayal of Laura Porter, the hapless and beleaguered military wife and mother, I drew a lot from my own mother. She was the stoic sort, but the constant travail attached to military life and marriage to a career soldier ultimately did her in. In the portrayal of Laura Porter, the reader is apt to see this dynamic playing itself out.
RR: I mentioned that you have a family military background and some of your stories concern the military. Will you tell us a bit about how you choose to depict the military in your books and why?
Derald: I base my depiction on a lifetime of interaction with the military. And I’m not alone in these observations. And my depiction doesn’t waver too far from what’s been depicted by other writers. For instance, Pat Conroy’s “The Great Santini” has a father figure that’s portrayed in a comparable manner as I portray Lt. Colonel Abe O’Donnell in “The Call.” Both are borderline narcissists who want the people around them to give them their way, attend to their needs, and conform to their expectations. For example, in the case of Ben Meachum, the eldest son, he is singled out to fulfill the role of the father’s extension. Meantime, the sister is expected to carry on the family tradition by marrying a Marine and producing more fodder for the Marine Corp. They endure a peaceful year separated from the family breadwinner because of a hardship duty assignment. Then he comes back to the family like a bull in a china closet and forcefully takes command of the family like they were his recruits. Before heading out to the next assignment, Ben Meachum receives this admonition from his grandmother. “It’s the duty of the child to conform to his parents’ expectations. You have a strict father, and it’s your obligation to fall in line with what he wants.”
Mary Edwards Wertsch in her book “Military Brats” provides a similar depiction of the upbringing of children within the fortress confines. She also interviews adults who grew up with military parents. Most report having moved around a lot, and even as adults have chosen careers that require them being consistently on the move. Ms. Wersch liberally uses excerpts from “The Great Santini” to illustrate the many aspects present within the military family dynamics. In fact, she even uses an essay written by Mr. Conroy in the book’s preface entitled “Drafted At Birth.” Within the context of this essay, Pat Conroy renders a blistering account of what the “military brat” needs to endure almost from the time he pops out of mother’s womb.
The only difference between me and the aforementioned twosome is that both Mary and Pat, near the conclusion of their works, wind up extolling their fathers’ qualities and expressing pride in being “military brats” and express praise and thanks to their folks for molding them into what they are today. As for me, the experience still gives me nightmares. This might possibly be because both Pat and Mary are speaking of their natural parents who most likely endowed these two military offspring with comparable genetic propensities. Me, I’m adopted, which most likely makes me less apt to share any affinity with my father. Of course, this is just a guess. But in this sense, I draw from my own background in the shaping of my character Ishmael O’Donnell and I certainly draw from my background in my portrayal of Daryl McGregor. And I’m told my writing has quite the satirical bent. A few folks have told me that “Taken Up Before The General” is funny. And maybe it is. But I sure experienced a lot of pain writing the thing and having to relive that part of my life. But when I was the callow, naive college freshman, I couldn’t write that piece. Somehow though, allowing myself forty years to put things in perspective, I’m now able to craft such works of fiction, and then seek out therapy. It’s sort of like the old joke where someone asks a friend, “Why do you see a shrink?” To which the friend replies, “So I can put up with all the people who don’t.”
RR: Religion is another big theme in your books. Did you pick religion and the military specifically, or do you feel all organizations have a tendency to limit individuals from being truly themselves?
Derald: I believe all organizations harbor that potential. I mean after thirty years of working for Transit, I couldn’t help but notice many major inhibitors of individual expression put into place. But to their credit, Transit does have what’s known as an Employee Assistance Program that plays a major role in helping to maintain its human equipment and keep us all in fit repair so we can continue to serve the organization’s higher purpose. I remember one time availing myself of this service and wound up being recommended to one of their psychiatrists. When I arrived at this psychiatrist’s office, I was amazed to see a bunch of my colleagues availing themselves of the same service—mainly, being dispensed such drugs as anti-depressants and anti-anxiety medications. Religion might serve a comparable purpose. It’s been known to bring comfort to the grieving, solace to the poor and hungry, but it’s also known to be used as an instrument of control and suppression, and we see that dynamic being played out in “The Astonishing Elmo Piggins,” especially in the record-burning sequence of the story. My character, Lawanda Piggins, tends to exemplify the new breed of “free spirit” that was emerging during the late sixties and early seventies whose chief propensity is to question and even reject the accepted norms of her surrounding social order. And in an area of the country, such as the South, during that era, where the established norms of community are pretty deeply embedded, a free spirit like Lawanda can be seen as almost a cancerous growth invading an otherwise healthy body. And what does a body do when invaded by such a cancerous entity? It gathers together all the resources it can muster to combat its growth. But a cancerous growth can be an irrepressible force. And we all know what happens when an irrepressible force meets an immovable object. In the words of Maurice Chevalier, “something’s got to give.” And generally, what is the desired outcome of such a conflict? To the community at large, I’m sure that the immovable object remains steadfast. I remember such a sentiment expressed in the old time hymn “We shall not be moved.” But even steadfast tradition at some point bore out its roots via some form of social upheaval, and that includes religion, or in this case, Christianity. Theologians Rheinhold and Richard Niebuhr address such issues in their theological treatise that expound on such topics as “Christ and Culture,” “Christ For Culture,” and “Christ Against Culture.”
But as for the military, religion is definitely used as a means of control whenever it is deemed feasible. Religion and salt peter—two instruments so necessary to tame the unwieldy beast of individual expression and hormonal propensities. Plus one observation I made during my copious travels from base to base is that a lot of military installations are located in the South. And southern folkways and customs at that time went hand-in-hand with military disciplinary philosophy. Corporal punishment was still in vogue in the schools, and for me, it was like walking a tightrope trying to avoid the paddle being taken to my rear end. You were made to address the teachers and administrators and sir and ma’am, and even outside the school setting if you were judged to be misbehaving, even strangers imposed the heavy hand of discipline on you. And as a child, it was just assumed you would go to church. The alternative usually meant facing more corporal punishment which, at times, would be given during Sunday School. It was kind of like the sentiments expressed in that old Merle Haggard song, “That Backwoods Christian Raising With A Bible And A Woodshed....”
But interspersed between these family tours of the south, Father was assigned to hardship tours like Vietnam and Korea. During that time, Mother and I would return to our home in California. Certain familial pressures would cease during Father’s absence, but the programming I received while in the South and residing within fortress confines left its mark. I would still address the teachers and administrators as sir and ma’am instead of yeah and uh-huh like the other kids and the kids would look at me like I had a screw loose. And the teachers found it to be a bit odd too. Also, if there were corporal punishment in the school, I never heard of it being administered. One time, some of us were caught leaving a certain area before the bell rang and we were told to write a sentence 200 times. I was the only one who wrote it that many times. The other kids didn’t even hit 100, but it was considered acceptable. And the kids who asked me called me a liar when I told them I had written it 200 times. As for church, that was considered an item that was optional and Mom was generally too tired to go.
RR: I love the names of your characters, like Elmo Piggins. How do you come up with such great names?
Derald: The name Elmo has its origins in the Greek, Latin, and Italian language. It means literally, “to love: God’s helmet.” And as we see, at the brink of Elmo’s true conversion, his Road to Damascus experience as it were, he does indeed put on “the whole armor of God” and embarks single-mindedly to the task of spreading the Gospel. Remember the hymn, “Onward Christian Soldiers, marching as to war...”? Well, from Elmo’s vantage point, he is indeed every inch the dedicated warrior for the Gospel, although for some, including members of his family, he comes across as a veritable train wreck. Then there’s Archibald Shyster in Reginald Dexter’s story—the seminary dean and Christian academician who could just as easily be making his living as a used car salesman. I believe the name “Shyster” says it all. The name Amos Posey I derived from two sources—one, from the Old Testament prophet Amos, and Posey from the plant. Amos does exhibit, within the context of the story, a certain intuitive sense of influences beyond the vale, and he is getting up there in years and probably anticipates his inevitable demise. And like the plant of his namesake, he most likely anticipates his return to the earth. As for “Snake” McCutchen, that just sounded like a good name for a motorcyclist. The only thing I can say with regards to Reginald Dexter is that I heard Steve McQueen make a fleeting reference to a man named Dexter in the movie “The Great Escape,” and the movie is mentioned within the context of “The Rebirth Of Reginald Dexter” when my protagonist is considering taking up dirt bike riding. The rest of the names I just made up out of my head—like Russell Tiberon—I don’t know where that name came from.
RR: Derald, what reaction or new understanding are you hoping to get out of your readers?
Derald: That, I believe, is something that is best left to the readers. Everybody views life from their own subjective vantage point. I’m more interested in hearing about what my readers get out of my stories than I am about putting out some hard and fast message.
RR: Okay, but at the beginning of the interview when you talked about promoting your work, you said you could say to prospective readers, “Do you want to enhance your wisdom? Would you like to broaden your perspective on life? Would you like to view life from a different vantage point? ‘Twice Upon A Prequel & Three Shorts’ is here to show you the way.” So my question then, is, what enhancement of wisdom or different vantage point do you hope or think your writers will receive from your books?
Derald: That would depend upon what the reader brings to the table. I remember back in library school during one of the class sessions, the professor of the course presented us with the following scenario: A madman escaped from the local asylum and was currently loose in the town. He made it clear he was after one of the town’s residents—one Amy Williams. Amy knew the mad man was after her and that she needed protection. First she ran to the police. The police said, “Sorry, Amy, but we can only make the arrest after the crime has been committed.” Then she ran to the church. The clergy at the church said, “Your sins are forgiven.” Getting more flustered, she ran to her psychologist. Her psychologist said, “Your appointment is a 2:00 p.m. this coming Wednesday.” Then she ran to a neighbor, but the neighbor just said, after hearing of Amy’s plight, “Then get out of here! I don’t want that madman after me too!” Now Amy was exhausted, and the madman overtook her. The town grieved the loss.
So far, having read a few reviews on my book “Twice Upon A Prequel,” I’ve noted a few of them made comment about the meaning inherent in my short short “A Litter Bit of Wisdom.” And their interpretations are quite interesting. Of course, I have my own interpretation, but why jeopardize the learning experience of my readers by imposing my own view on the matter. Maybe my readers are righter than me.
RR: Derald, are you working on another book, and can you tell us what it will be about?
Derald: Sort of. I’m looking at writing a novel exposing the public transportation industry. Unfortunately, I haven’t had time to do much work on it. I’ve been too busy trying to be my own promoter. I’d like very much to work on it more. Writing is something I can do, and I feel good and right about doing it. Promoting, on the other hand, is something that’s very new and strange to me. Perhaps if I were a bit more narcissistic I wouldn’t feel so strange about doing it. I just finished reading Marsha Friedman’s book “Celebritize Yourself,” and I have to say that the incorporating of her suggestions, to my mind, appear to be quite formidable, especially since most of my life I’ve spent in the background and have been quite the introvert. So, it’s all been an interesting experience, and a bit scary too.
RR: Well, you’ve done a good job promoting yourself here today, Derald. Thank you for the interview, but before we go, will you tell us about your website and any additional information we can find there about “Twice Upon a Prequel...and Three Shorts”?
Derald: You can check out all the items that pertain to my two books on my website: www.dhamiltonbooks.com. Also, I noted a lot of the reviews, press releases, and interviews I’ve given have appeared on Google and other search engines. Also, the trailer for my novel “The Call” is not only on my website, but also on YouTube. I should have a trailer for “Twice Upon A Prequel” in the not too distant future. And if anybody wants to send me any written comments, my email is firstname.lastname@example.org. And it’s been a joy to talk with you folks today.RR: Thank you, Derald, and best wishes for your continued writing and your book sales.
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