In 2008 when I started writing my book Once upon a Mulberry Field, a big concern I had was the size of it—how much material to include in it. From what I was able to gather at the time, the ideal length of a book should be anywhere between 60,000 and 90,000 words, which roughly translates into 200 to 300 pages. Gone are the days of the epic novels a la Clancy or Michener due to the proliferation of other media, old and new, which are partially to blame for the modern consumer’s short span of attention.
Mulberry Field is close to my heart since it uses Vietnam during the war as background and also because it might be the only book I’d ever attempt to write. So I struggled between trying to make it as comprehensive as I possibly could and at the same time conforming to the recommended length of two to three hundred pages. The result was a difficult and at times painful selection and elimination process—to decide what material to include and what to set aside, chosen from a lifetime of personal memories and from an incredible wealth of research material.
In the end, it took a lot of hand wringing and six long years to distill it all down to 125,000 words across 392 pages. Even at that, I felt I wasn’t doing justice either to the story or to the characters in it. There was just so much more to tell. The book length, along with the desire to have a say in all artistic decisions concerning my “baby,” contributed to my decision to self-publish.
To my surprise and relief, Once upon a Mulberry Field has had a pretty decent reception. The book has garnered a few awards and positive readers’ reviews, and for that I’m very thankful. But the most gratifying and humbling experience for me has come at the various presentations and book talks where I got to meet face to face with my readers, many of them Vietnam veterans, who told me how much they enjoyed the book, how much it has touched them. This is the greatest reward that makes all the hard work worthwhile.
It was also at those book talks that I was asked the dreaded questions: Will there be a sequel? If not a sequel, then what would the next book be about? Have I started on it? When will it be out? To all of which I just answered: I have been really busy with the book promotion—a full-time job—and have had little time to devote to my writing. But, I said with conviction, as much to myself as to my readers, there would be another book. There has got to be. There are simply too many stories, still, that are crying out to be told.
And so, little by little, in between the promotional activities, I have gotten back to writing. This second time around, I feel I don’t need to lay out the complex historical and cultural background all over again, at least not to the same extent I did with Mulberry Field. And I will concentrate on one character at a time, one special situation at a time; take a close-up, intimate snapshot in time instead of a panoramic view of an entire historical period. This time, I will write short stories. It will be easier. Faster.
Or so I thought.
As I’m quickly finding out, short stories are a different kind of writing altogether. Much faster pace, much tougher to establish a contextual background or a character’s portrait, and where every word counts. It’s like crafting an intricate piece of jewelry instead of painting a landscape scenery, I guess. Anyway, it feels like I’m starting all over at the bottom of my learning curve, albeit a new one. I’m a slow learner, an even slower writer, but God willing, I’m going to do this. I’m going to work my tail off and I’m going to tell those stories that I was forced to leave out before, even if it takes me another—six years? The question, then, is: Will you, my readers, have the patience to wait for me? I can only pray that you do.
As they rightly say: So many stories, so little time (in a day).