What Good Writing Is All About

I was ambushed this morning.

Over eggs splattered with cheese and red peppers and toast with honey, I read a piece of creative nonfiction by my buddy, my writing pal, a man two years older, a boy of my time — the Sixties, the Vietnam era. And he was there in that “hell pit of a country.”

How long have I been reading his stories and listening to him read them out loud? Ten years maybe? His stories have all been based on his mischievous boyhood in Dallas, but this new story submitted for critiquing in our writers’ group this week is about his Vietnam experience. I have to admit I’ve wanted to see one of this nature for a long time. And now ten days before Veterans Day, it’s in my hands.

He grabbed me and pulled me in when he opened the story with his feet dangling out of the Huey, him leaning out, letting the hot air, like opening a furnace door, blow against him. He tried to remember what ice cream was like — he offered the reader a sweet, creamy, cold contrast to the fiery hell of a war. The night before in a fox hole in the jungle, his buddy “Hammerhead” had described the dang biggest banana split ever, with vanilla and chocolate ice cream, real pineapple chunks, chocolate syrup, strawberries, cream, cherries, and pecans, with bananas fencing it all in — a plethora of color and taste and texture that left me with a good visual and drool running out the corners of my mouth.

But I’m not allowed to forget that this is war and there are enough details to prove it, like flyboys, LAW (light anti-tank weapon), M-16, M-60, frag grenades, jungle fatigues, and jungle rot in tender places. I zoomed through descriptions and dialogue and carefully crafted scenes of characters I felt like I could see and hear, boys I might have known.

He went on a week of R&R where he made stories to tell — stories of women, whiskey, a motorcycle he rented and drove a hundred miles an hour, and to a PX where he ordered not one, but two giant banana splits and couldn’t wait to get back to tell Hammerhead.

And then he returned to his unit in the boonies with his stories. And the ending came and ambushed me. It stuck in my throat like dry toast. As he jumped out of the Huey, he saw two new guys with fresh fatigues and knew what that meant. I knew somebody wasn’t going to make it because that’s what war is all about, but the way this writer penned it was brilliant. And when I read the last five sentences that captured his reaction to the loss of his friend … well, I wept. Tears on eggs. I took off my glasses to wipe my eyes. I felt the loss. The ending was abrupt, dramatic, graphic, enough. It stayed with me.

Damn good job. It strikes a universal chord. It is timeless.

“Man, ya done it. You found a new voice that is so you. I hope you’ll let go and let it go and go with it.” Fine job … what good writing is all about.

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