Interview with Wendell Affield

Where did you grow up, and how did this influence your writing?
I was born in New York City. In 1949 my mother met my stepfather through a mail order bride newspaper and we moved to a farm in northern Minnesota. I was two years old. How did this influence my writing? There's an old adage, "write what you know." The first book I wrote, "Muddy Jungle Rivers," explores my 1968 tour of duty on a river boat during the Vietnam War.
In 2010, after my mother died, I discovered 200 years of our family history locked in the Chickenhouse on our old farm homestead. This second book is the first in a series, "Chickenhouse Chronicles," as I explore my past and how multi-generational mental disease has impacted our family. Follow along with "Herman, 1940s Lonely Hearts Search," as he hunts for a wife.
When did you first start writing?
I remember the autumn of 1964--I was sixteen, had left the farm, and rode the rails. I spent the summer in the Northwest, hobo camps, and working for farmers. I came home that fall for school and discovered that "Readers Digest" was open for submissions. I wrote about my summer adventures--cursive, on lined yellow paper--and sent it in. That was my first rejection.
What's the story behind your latest book?
The first book in my "Chickenhouse Chronicles" is about my stepfather's search for a wife. In the book I am presently working on, "The Farm 1950s," I reconstruct life on our little farm, my parent's volatile marriage and the impact it had on us children. Twice my mother tried to escape. After the second attempt she was committed to a mental hospital and we nine children were placed outside the home. "The Farm 1950s" is currently with an editor. My goal is to have it published by summer 2017.
What motivated you to become an indie author?
I knew I had stories to tell. After I retired from thirty years in the business world, I attended our local university to learn the writing craft. My Vietnam War memoir, "Muddy Jungle Rivers" evolved over several years of writing. Professors and students encouraged me to publish. I attempted the traditional route. Needless to say, no agent was interested in an unknown. I formed an LLC and self published. A local company, Bang Printing, did a 2,500 off-set run. Five years later I've sold over 3,000 books--print and eBook. This spring, 2017, I've been invited to speak to university students who use my memoir in history class. I recently purchased another run from Bang Printing.
How has Smashwords contributed to your success?
Actually, I'm quite new to Smashwords. I'm impressed with their growth. To this point my sales have been from readings, college bookstore sales, and Amazon. I look forward to a productive experience with SWs.
What are you working on next?
I have several irons in the fire with my "Chickenhouse Chronicles" series. One important lesson I'm learning in writing a series of nonfiction is how to weave background information into each book without sounding repetitious. For example, I transcribed my grandmother's diary of her 1937-'38 European Sojourn with her two daughters. That will be a rather unique eBook because I include many scrapbook pages, museum, and opera fliers pre WWII. Another book in my series is about my mother, Barbara. My grandmother documents Barbara's violent behavior in her 1937-'38 diary. I need to repeat excerpts in the book about Barbara's life, perhaps weave it into historical pre WWII societal pressure.
What is your writing process?
Donald M. Murray's writing craft tools have been a huge help. In exploring old memories I find Murray's memory tree invaluable. The trunk is the scene (memory) foundation. Branches are prominent events of that memory. I write a draft, and begin branching out--free hand stick tree--as new memory fragments rise to the surface. After several revisions, I may have dozens of twigs and leaves with tiny detail snippets that I've recalled. The beauty of the tree image is having the full scene in front of me on one page. It's almost like poetry--condensed to images--no unnecessary words.
How do you approach cover design?
I go to our local bookstore and see what jumps out at me. I take pictures with my phone and then go online and study the electronic postage stamp size cover, which is very important. I recently read a statistic that a person spends 1-2 seconds on a cover image. So it better be eye-catching. I hire a professional cover designer. Demonza.com did my "Herman 1940s Lonely Hearts Search" cover. I sent them several old photos to work with. I personally like the black and white background imagery contrasted with bright colors for title and author.
What do you read for pleasure?
I read writing craft, psychology, history and nonfiction. The history and nonfiction I focus on 1900-1950 because that's background for my "Chickenhouse Chronicles" series. One of the layers of my stories is the multi-generational mental disease that has passed forward to present day. The earliest documented case in our family was an aunt, Patty Thomas, who was committed to an asylum in England in the 1800s. I recently read "A Lethal Inheritance," by Victoria Costello. The author, a scientific writer, does an excellent job exhuming generations of her family's troubled past--backed by extensive endnotes on her research.
What are your five favorite books, and why?
Wow--I don't know that I have five favorite books--maybe five dozen. Here is what's on my desk at the moment. All have been read multiple times.
"The World Is On Fire" Joni Tavis
The Writer's Guide to Psychology" Carolyn Kaufman, Psy.D.
"Swallow the Ocean" Laura M. Flynn
Psycho-Therapy Of The Borderline Adult" James F. Masterson, M.D.
"All Over but the Shoutin'" Rick Bragg
"Our Mother's War" Emily Yellin
"Telling True Stories," Harvard University
"Write To Learn," Donald M. Murray
"Soldier From The War Returning," Thomas Childers
What do your fans mean to you?
Fans warm my heart. My first book, "Muddy Jungle Rivers," a Vietnam War memoir, has been the genesis for reconnecting many men who hadn't seen each other for more than fifty years. About a week ago I connected two of my fans through Facebook. One was the niece of a sailor who was Killed In Action the day I got wounded in 1968. The other fan was a sailor who was close friends with the man who was KIA. I've received countless messages about how my memoir has helped veterans confront their PTSD--and from their family members--for example, go to http://www.wendellaffield.com/war/ambush-survivors-reunited-45-years-later-memories-from-august-18-1968.
Published 2017-02-06.
Smashwords Interviews are created by the profiled author, publisher or reader.

Books by This Author

Herman: 1940s Lonely Hearts Search Chickenhouse Chronicles, Book I
Price: $2.99 USD. Words: 15,710. Language: English. Published: January 31, 2017. Categories: Nonfiction » Biography » Historical biography, Nonfiction » Psychology » Mental illness
Affield reconstructs his stepfather’s early life, war experience, and Herman’s four year search for a wife, culminating in the tragic discovery of the author’s mother. After WWII Herman returned to his farm with a dream and PTSD. December 1945 he received The Exchange, a mail-order bride catalogue. In 1949 he discovered Barbara in Cupid’s Columns.
Muddy Jungle Rivers
Price: $9.95 USD. Words: 92,680. Language: English. Published: March 8, 2012. Categories: Nonfiction » Biography » Military biography
Muddy Jungle Rivers is a close-up look at life on a gunboat during 1968, the bloodiest year of the Vietnam War. It's the story of a seven-man crew captained by a volatile pro-war enlisted man. Like Philip Caputo's "A Rumor Of War," this narrative takes the reader into frustration, rage, terror, death, betrayal, and the search for redemption. Muddy Jungle Rivers has 29 chapters, maps,and photos.