On Christmas of 2003, I gave my dad a leather bound copy of Alexander Dumas' The Count of Monte Cristo. I inscribed a promise to one day give him a book with our name on the cover on the inset, and nine years later, I was able to make good on my word when I put The Gaze in his hands. I've wanted to write about him, and the special friendship we share that goes beyond the blood bonds of father and son.
We both have read all our lives, but we've seldom come across a novel that hit us both right through the heart like Fourth and Forever.
The experience went beyond the football theme that might lead anyone to assume it's a boys' book. I can assure you, it's a novel for the soul.
Bert Carson's blogs are infused with genuine emotion and it's easy to become a fan. I wanted much more of his voice, and so I began reading his novels. Since moving back to Connecticut, patiently working towards having a house again, I've had this shelf of honor in the studio I share with my dad. Fourth and Forever stands on that top shelf along with the work of Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Dean Koontz, John W. Huffman, Alexander Dumas, and Charles Dickens among others. Why? Because no one writes from the heart like Bert Carson.
Fourth and Forever is a novel that should be read by everyone. What inspired the beauty in the friendships and relationships in the novel?
BC: Javier, for the answer to this question and a couple of others, you need to know a bit of the history of the novel. I married the first time, on 11/22/63 (which is the day Kennedy was assassinated). We moved up our planned wedding date in June because it appeared I was about to be drafted. That worked for a couple of years, and then the draft rules changed and married men with no children were eligible. I was one of the first to be drafted under the revised rules. I would have spent my entire tour at Fort Sam Houston, Texas, had I not been promoted and given the job of in-processing guys returning from Vietnam. After a week of that, I determined I would go to Vietnam just to see what was going on there that could do what I saw in the eyes of returning vets.
I volunteered, extended my term of enlistment, since I didn’t have enough time left for a full tour, pulled some strings (which I’ll probably write about in a blog in the next few days), and got assigned to a helicopter unit. I was gone in less than a month after my promotion.
One of a number of common denominators among Vietnam Vets is divorce. I stayed in my first marriage, after Vietnam, longer than most, but finally it crashed. My ex-wife got custody of the kids; I moved to another state, and became a seriously absent father.
Ten years later, my son called and asked if he could come and live with me. Of course I said yes, after explaining that I was traveling every week in my new career as a professional speaker. He said he could handle that. In making the relocation arrangements with my ex, I discovered he’d dropped out of school a few weeks into the tenth grade. I told him he had to go to school as part of the living-with-me-deal, and he agreed.
For the next three years, we developed a relationship that I’d always dreamed we would have. A “Daddy and Bobby,” relationship, and that inspired that portion of the book.
It's difficult to explain all the emotions I felt as I got to know their relationship. I couldn't help drawing parallels between my dad and I. The love, the mutual respect, the trust, it all comes through so vividly on every page.
You mentioned Vietnam. You and I are big supporters of our boys in uniform regardless of era, but you've taken it a step further by using the story of Josh "Daddy" Edwards to create awareness to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and giving your readers a clear understanding. Was this a goal of yours when you wrote the novel?
BC: The Vietnam portions of the book did not exist in the original draft. Then Desert Shield became Desert Storm and all my Vietnam issues came up. My solution ultimately became Vietnam Veterans Southern Command – here’s a link to that story http://bertcarsonauthor.com/post-traumatic-stress-disorder/
When I finally admitted the magnitude of the Vietnam issue in my life, and saw it in thousands of others that I’d met, I knew it had to be a bigger part of Fourth and Forever. So, the simple answer to your question is, yes, I intended to address the issue, but more than that, I wanted to speak directly to vets and the families of vets in a voice they could hear.
I've gotten one explanation, back when I was working on a paper for my US History class in college on Vietnam. I went to the local VFW and talked to one good man. He didn't want to say much at first, but his demeanor and the look in his eyes spoke volumes. But seeing it on the page, in your words, I can't tell you the enlightenment it brought to my mind.
Another strong aspect of the novel is that special friendship "Daddy" Edwards offered to the people around him. When There's a certain passage, "You don't have to know the takeoff speed to fly the plane...when it's ready to fly, it will fly. Don't rush it and don't force it..." That entire scene is one I remember the most, and I often think about it when impatience eats at me. Fourth and Forever has many of these lines and lessons conveyed through flying, football, and even a special mutt. Where do they come from?
BC: For as long as I can remember, and that is back to the age of two or three, and I’m now 70, I’ve had one objective, and that was to know and live the highest truth I could find and incorporate in my life. I’ve never wavered from that objective and along the way, when I heard or saw a lesson in truth that spoke to my heart, I noted it. The particular passage that you quoted happened in my life just the way I wrote it in Fourth and Forever. When I heard it, I knew it could be applied to all of life, not just flying Cessna 150’s, so I noted it, and now it’s part of your life.
I'm always looking to write that one line that can be a part of someone's life. I have to say, I love the way you wrote that moment, as well as the characters. I have to know, perhaps because I love dogs so much. Is there a real Flexible?
Flexible is primarily a combination of two dogs that shared my life. My first dog, Peck, and Christina’s great dog, Tigger, a 100 pound Bouvier who was so special words fail me when I think of him. I’m more pleased that Christina threw in with me than I am about anything that has ever happened in my life. That Tigger was part of the deal just made an amazing deal even better.
Bert writes stories about men and women who speak the truth and do the right thing. He'll treat you to a few life lessons along the way, and you'll feel a better person for it. This time, I didn't ask what's behind the pages of Fourth and Forever, only because the answer consists of one word: Heart.
Writing in a soulful voice is not easy to do. You're at the mercy of your own emotions and memories. To write from the heart in a way that touches someone else is a feat. Bert Carson's writing voice is a reading experience you won't forget. His words will touch you regardless of who you are or what you've lived, that's the true mark of an author, and you will find those qualities behind the pages of Fourth and Forever.