Leslie Bratspis saw a change in her ex-husband, a U.S. Marine, after he returned from two tours of duty in Vietnam. She drew from those memories when she started developing the plot for her new novel, “Vanilla Grass,”which is drawn from interviews with other veterans, online research, war movies and video documentaries about post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Bratspis worked on the U.S. Marine Corps base in 29 Palms, Calif. during the Vietnam era where she spent a lot of time around members of all ranks, both officers and enlisted.
She said it took about nine or 10 months to write this book, which is set in a fictitious location called Ship’s Cove, reminiscent of the Key Peninsula where she lives with her husband Ned and two golden retrievers, both rescue dogs.
“Being retired and having time to write has been wonderful,”she said. “Belonging to Lakebay Writers was very helpful, not only in writing but in forming friendships.”
When asked about local talent, she said, “There is such a creative group of writers, painters, weavers, seamstresses, photographers, quilters and potters. The environment here is conducive to creativity, rather than living in the city where there are so many distractions.”
“Vanilla Grass”is a labor of love, written to raise awareness of the challenges to our military members returning from tours in Afghanistan and Iraq.
“There are 22 military suicides a day (reported). Because we live so near a military base, I took it personally. It had meaning for me, I became immersed in it and in the characters,”she said.
“Some of the problems associated with PTSD are flashbacks, hyper-vigilance, inability to sleep, depression, anxiety, substance abuse, anger and nightmares. The book’s main character, Vietnam veteran John Carrows, and another fictitious veteran, Mike Hogan just returned from Iraq, show many of these symptoms in the novel.”
Bratspis’research found that the symptoms of PTSD were documented in 1990 B.C. and 27 centuries ago in Homer’s Iliad. The term “shell shock” emerged during World War I, and was later called war neurosis or traumatic neurosis. It was adopted formally as a clinical diagnosis only in 1980. Through her work, Bratspis’respect and appreciation for the military and what they do “has definitely increased,”she said. “There is a real need for post-deployment reintegration. The veterans need services and support and understanding,”she added.
Bratspis said a therapist at Joint Base Lewis McChord is giving copies of“Vanilla Grass”to coworkers and those clients who are focused enough to read, calling it “insightful.”“It means so much to an author to know their work is read and well-received,”she said.
Comfort dogs and service dogs, like “Dogs of War”and “Battleground Buddies,”play a big part in this novel. Sage is a rescue dog and is the catalyst that brings Carrows out of his shell, so that he can be around people again. “Both are wounded, and survivors. Both are heroes,”Bratspis said.
This book covers many current issues. Strong language is used. Bratspis said it is a necessary vehicle to demonstrate growth and change in the youth. The sex she depicts in the book is a reflection of current teenage promiscuity.
“It shocked me. It is more prevalent than I knew. I wrote about it to raise awareness,”she said.
She is grateful for the assistance of the Gig Harbor Police Department for their technical expertise regarding processing of delinquent youth. It is a story of redemption for veterans and for some of the teens, “because of John and how he enlisted the community,”she said.
“I hope people appreciate the message and spread awareness of challenges faced by returning soldiers, and that they understand the importance of community in getting things done,” Bratspis said.
“Vanilla Grass”is available on Amazon, Kindle, Barnes and Noble and Cost Less Pharmacy or may be ordered directly from the author by email: firstname.lastname@example.org. The novel was published by Plicata Press, November 2014.