|J. Russell (Rusty) Smith, Author|
J. Russell Smith brings us LONGWORTH, written as a thought-provoking coming-of-age novel set in the 1960s during the Vietnam War time period. When asked if Smith based his novel on personal knowledge, he responded “an unequivocal yes.” It has been described by reviewers as “a well written story about life and survival in a misunderstood era,” and includes war experiences as well as a personal love story as part of Longworth’s coming of age.
I remember the 1960s (and 1970s) well. When Smith says that the Vietnam War “shaped the 1960s” I couldn’t agree more. It turned the 1960s into a decade of domestic conflicts over those who approved the need for it and those who did not and certainly created personal tension of allegiance—a war that many of us opposed but who cared deeply for the lives of our friends and family who fought it. The 1960s also saw the acceleration of the civil rights movement and growth of technology—it was indeed a decade of change and disruption.
Smith, who owns his own business as well as writes novels, is currently developing a Science Fiction novel set in the Pacific Northwest. When he isn’t working or writing, he enjoys traveling, golfing, and reading.
Don’t miss the giveaway opportunity following his interview.
Q: Why did you set your novel LONGWORTH during the Vietnam War time period—certainly a difficult time for those of us who lived through it? What inspired you to write it?
J. Russell Smith: This novel was a cathartic experience for me personally, having lived through that period and having served in Vietnam. As important, however, I felt the need to explain what was going on in the 60s, particularly for those who did not come of age during that period. Many of those alive today do not realize how influential and powerful that period was, given that our country has now been in a long period of malaise, indifference, and self-absorption. The days of “ask not what your country can do for you, etc…….” are long gone it would appear, given the avarice and disdain for one’s fellow man.
Q: Is LONGWORTH a story about the coming of age of a young man or is it about the issues that anyone faces going to war?
J. Russell Smith: I think the answer is “yes” to both. As I mention in the book, I think, in this instance, the Vietnam War defined the 60s, thus anyone who served in the military during that time period and particularly anyone who actually served in combat will confess that the two are inextricably linked. While the same can be said about WWII, for example, the political situation was very different, thus the experiences and the attitudes toward the Vietnam War were polarizing. One coming of age during that period faced choices that were not at all clear. In fact, they were disturbing and contradictory. Contrast that with the relatively clear choice one had during WWII.
Q: Why will readers care about your protagonist Longworth? How do you engage readers to want to follow him? Do you consider him a “hero?” Why?
J. Russell Smith: As I tried to point out in the book, the 60s (as defined by the Vietnam War) were unlike any era that preceded it in American history. Carson Longworth’s generation was the first in history to come of age in an era of constant change. Technology, originally spurred on by the launch of Sputnik, was changing before our eyes. That technology was being utilized to a greater extent in Vietnam, which allowed the United States to mask its egregious errors. Carson and his generation were caught up in all of this. I would hope that readers would want to better understand how the 60s defined an entire generation and, to a large extent, shaped attitudes that remain with us today.
Do I consider Carson a hero? I would answer that two different ways: one, he was more of a survivor, like so many that fought in that war; just trying to understand what was happening; and, two, yes he was heroic to the extent that he had the courage to rail against what was happening in Vietnam both during and after the war.
Q: Did you draw on real-life experiences and people to write LONGWORTH?
J. Russell Smith: The answer is an unequivocal yes.
Q: Does the concept of heroes vs villains apply to LONGWORTH? If so, how do you define a “villain?”
J. Russell Smith: Yes, the concept does indeed apply, though not as black and white as it may appear. As I mentioned above, politically the situation in the 60s was tenuous at best. We were all trying to figure out what was happening, as it was not easy to determine the good guys from the bad. There were villains, though, even early on in the conflict. While he did not start the war, Richard Nixon certainly escalated the conflict, thus he became a symbol of everything that was going wrong. Couple that with Watergate and everything else that was happening during that period, it made for a powder keg of a situation. When most of us began to realize just what was happening, it became apparent that our participation in Vietnam was pure folly…..at the expense of the young men who had fought and, in some cases, lost their lives.
Ironically, the individuals who learned nothing from that conflict are the same ones who prosecuted the war in Iraq. It is just further proof that power corrupts and that we learn little from history.
Q: Your book is set in the late 1960s. How much research did you conduct to assure historical accuracy? How important is accuracy to credibility?
J. Russell Smith: While I lived through that era, I was obviously aware of most of what was going on. However, I did a good deal of research to ensure that what I was saying was historically accurate. There is virtually nothing that I have not read or seen (movies, documentaries, etc.) about the Vietnam War and its causes and results. Accuracy is, in my estimation, crucial to anyone trying to understand what was transpiring. In that sense, I suppose this can be considered somewhat of a historical novel…..or at least an enlightening one.
Q: How helpful was the use of humor to tell the story or develop your characters?
J. Russell Smith: I believe humor is crucial in most instances throughout the conduct of our lives. However, because this was, to me, such a serious subject, as was that era, humor took a backseat to the drama that was unfolding.
Q: Did you write LONGWORTH to entertain readers or were you hoping to educate or deliver a message?
J. Russell Smith: With this novel, my hope was to enlighten the reader. If he/she lived during that era, then perhaps this would conjure up some memories. Many who have read the book have told me it brought back memories both good and bad. For those who did not live through the 60s, and the Vietnam War that defined it, I would hope they would receive both an education and realize the import of the message.
Q: What’s next?
J. Russell Smith: I am in the midst of writing a science fiction novel set in the Pacific Northwest. The notion came to me in a dream/nightmare.
Q: Tell us about J. Russell Smith. What do you like to do when you’re not writing?
J. Russell Smith: I own my company, thus my time is limited. When I am not working or writing, I remain a voracious reader, world traveler, and golfer. I also tend, I think because of my experiences early on, to be relatively reclusive as I get older. Not J.D. Salinger reclusive, but I am getting there. J
About J. Russell Smith
J. Russell Smith has spent a lifetime fighting for a sense of moral justice, on both a personal level and on a broader stage. His experiences in the Vietnam War and his graduate studies in intellectual history and political theory allow him to bring both an intimate perspective and a scholar’s analysis to the writing of Longworth. Smith is currently at work on his next two novels.
Carson Longworth seems to have been born under a lucky star. Handsome and athletic, with a certain mystique that both intrigues the people around him and keeps them at a distance, he drifts through his high school years, focusing on music, dancing, dating, and having a good time. But while he is pursuing these easy pleasures, the world around him is changing. Carson leaves the warm cocoon of his family to go to college where he gets his initial dose of reality along with his first realizations that his peripatetic childhood has left him unprepared to relate deeply to the people around him. As the Vietnam War begins to escalate, Carson is drafted into the Army, but instead decides to join the Marines. His experiences in the Marine Corps will begin to provide both the discipline he so desperately needs and the framework of domestic and international politics against which he will begin to rebel, defining and shaping his character in ways he could not have imagined.
While traveling from one duty station to another before leaving for Vietnam, Carson meets Kathy Wilkerson, a brilliant and beautiful young woman whose devotion provides the support and grounding that Carson needs in order to find his version of the truth. As a helicopter pilot in Vietnam, Carson will witness atrocities and absurdities that will reveal who he truly is: a formidably intelligent and ethical man with a need to understand the world and to stand up for what is right. Longworth is a unique coming-of-age story with a strong educational component, as well as a tender and inspiring love story. Broad in scope and beautifully detailed, Longworth is a deeply satisfying novel with thought-provoking themes that continue to resonate long after the last page is turned.
Where to Purchase LONGWORTH
Amazon: Kindle, Hardcover and Paperback
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