Guest Post: Her Life, Her Voice, My Words: Bearing Witness to History Through Someone Else’s Eyes — Part 2

May 15, 2014

By Scott Beller

(Click here for Part 1)

Red Heart and Soul 2013 book signing2

Careful What You Say

Rosemary lived the war. She, her family and friends felt its devastating impacts. I’d only seen Vietnam years later from a safe time and distance through novels like Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried, or the subjective lens of Hollywood and TV news. Though mine was limited, both of us had perspective and plenty to say on the subject. But because Beggars or Angels would be Rosemary’s voice (and not a third-person reporter’s) providing commentary on Vietnam – her homeland still silently suffering the influence of an oppressive government – we had to be very careful about how we addressed certain issues. Rosemary still has family, including her son, living in Vietnam under the watchful eye of a communist regime. Even when talking about events before and during the war, I often had to tone down my first drafts when discussing the North Vietnamese government, the NVA or harsh living conditions. Even if she felt strongly about and wanted to speak out against certain government actions, Rosemary’s voice had to be tempered. The wrong words could endanger friends and family still in the country or even put her in harm’s way the next time she went to visit.

Common Ground

The challenging tasks of establishing structure, maintaining consistent voice, and choosing the right anecdotes to highlight were more an exercise of technique, interview process and decision making. Developing the prose that would draw readers in and propel Beggars or Angels forward required something less mechanical.

My youngest daughter was born the week after Rosemary and I began the background interviews for the book. So I was squeezing a lot of my work-at-home consulting business and book development activity around taking care of my then-2-year-old and infant daughters. I don’t know that I would have been as effective in telling Rosemary’s story had I not had that small insight into her early parenting world. It gave me empathy and appreciation for what this woman was able to do under extreme circumstances. I mean, taking my daughters out to eat and changing their diaper in the men’s room may have been one of my bigger daddy challenges. I couldn’t imagine how, like Rosemary, I would have handled an emergency potty situation aboard a refugee ship…with only a single, soiled cloth diaper handy.

Without some level of shared experience, regardless of my skills as a writer, I doubt Rosemary would have been as comfortable trusting my ability to illuminate her story or to help advocate for Devotion to Children’s child care cause. Getting the opportunity to tell Rosemary’s extraordinary story through her eyes has absolutely given me a new perspective on writing, not to mention a better understanding of what it means to be a devoted parent. Thanks, Rosemary!

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Powell’s Books:
Barnes & Noble:

Asian For­tune News pub­lished excerpt (Chap­ter 1):



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