One Book or Three?

Forgotten POWs will probably be out in a month or two. It’s a story about six Americans – Ashley Smith, Randy Pulaski, Jeff Richey, Karl Kramer, Greg Christiansen and Hank Cho – who did not come home when the Vietnamese returned American POWs after the U.S. agreed to leave Vietnam.

In the story, all but Smith and Cho were seen to be captured in 1970 by the North Vietnamese. By 1973, they no longer knew of their existence. Their captor, a corrupt North Vietnamese Army Lieutenant Colonel Pham uses the Americans as laborers in his heroin factory.  His goal – keep them alive and ransom them for millions.

It wasn’t until 1982 when a Laotian colonel is captured during an incursion into Thailand that the U.S. learns of their existence. After they’re in rescued, two men, one a former POW and the other a CIA operative want the POWs dead because what they know will, for different reasons send them both to prison.

While the Americans are stuck in never-never land, Janet Pulaski was an anti-war activist and a member of the Student for A Democratic Society’s Action Wing before she married Randy. She makes a trip to Cuba to learn how to further the organization’s revolutionary goals.

The timeline is based on four key events:

  • 1970 – the Americans are captured;
  • 1973 – 561 American POWs are repatriated and the six are declared MIA, status unknown;
  • 1978 – the six are declared MIA, presumed dead; and
  • 1982 – U.S. involvement in the first joint U.S. Thai military exercise known as Cobra Gold.

Twelve years is a long time for a novel. The publisher and I discussed splitting the book into three manuscripts. One would begin with the capture of the six Americans in 1970 and end with their rescue in 1982. The second starts with their return home only to find out that a former POW and a CIA operative want them dead. Janet’s story becomes the third.

Dividing it would have required adding info from the other two so that the stories made sense. That was the easy part. The hard part would have been adding new plot lines in each of the books and connecting them.

In the end, we – the publisher and I – decided that the book shouldn’t be broken up because all the threads work well entwined together. The stories of:

  • The six POWs;
  • The collaboration and treason by a fellow POW who came home in 1973;
  • The fear of the CIA’s head of its POW/MIA desk that his corruption will be exposed; and
  • Janet’s unique career.

All combine to make Forgotten POWs a captivating, fast moving novel. I can’t wait to get it out so y’all can read it.

Marc Liebman

August 2016