The supreme vulnerablity of writing a novel

About six months ago, I finished a middle grade novel, Dogtag Summer. The idea had been brewing in the back of my mind, morphing and growing, for a long, long time. It started by my overhearing a conversation between my husband and an electrician, Jim, after they'd been working together all day. My husband asked Jim what it had been like for him to serve in Vietnam. Lots of words and feelings tumbled out of Jim. Several parts stuck with me for years. Like how he always walked point, because he'd been raised in the country, did a lot of hunting, and he didn't ever trust anyone else to walk point.

The what-ifs started for me right away. What if he had let someone else walk point, just once? What if an Amerasian child from Vietnam was pulled out of the country in the last desperate days of 1975 before the Communists took over? And what if, just what if, she were adopted by a vet with his own powder-keg of unresolved feelings?

I did a ton of research and interviews. I went to Vietnam to smell the river and the heavy rains, to listen to the cadence of people speaking to one another in the marketplace. I wrote, and rewrote and rewrote. I turned it in, (wrote and rewrote with my amazing editor's suggestions) and then wondered: how've I done, writing fiction?


Here's what Publisher's Weekly and Kirkus have to say:

Dogtag Summer
Elizabeth Partridge, Bloomsbury, $16.99 (240p) ISBN 978-1-59990-183-1
This gripping yet tender coming-of-age story reveals multiple nuanced perspectives of the Vietnam War and its aftermath in the summer of 1980. A backfiring school bus triggers a series of flashbacks for sixth-grader Tracy. Partridge (Marching for Freedom) smoothly interlaces memories of Tracy's childhood as a "con lai" (half-blood) in wartime Vietnam, where her American heritage endangered her Vietnamese family, and her present-day life as the adopted daughter of a Vietnam veteran who is dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder. When Tracy and her best friend, Stargazer--the child of hippie, war-protesting parents--discover a dogtag in her father's ammo box, the event sets off an unexpected chain of events in both families, leading to excruciating memories, painful misunderstandings, and compassionate insights. Partridge delicately portrays Tracy's struggle to reconcile her last, harrowing memory of her biological mother and her relationship with her loving, adoptive mother, who tries to understand the ghostly memories haunting her daughter and husband. Appendixes include interviews in which Partridge addresses historical questions, as well as a teacher's guide for using this book in a curriculum about Vietnam. Powerful historical fiction. Ages 8–12. (Mar.)

DOGTAG SUMMER
“A child of conflict struggles to understand her past and her present in this impressive historical novel. Partridge proves her keen understanding of young people and her ability to write engrossing fiction grounded in the history she usually illuminates in nonfiction. This is a dual narrative of Tracy’s story, alternating between her experiences as a con lai, or half-Vietnamese/half-American child, in that country in 1975 and her time as an adopted only child enmeshed in her now-ordinary life on the coast of California five years later. The trauma that she suffered in the past emerges from deeply buried memories at the beginning of summer when she and best friend Stargazer, a child of hippies, build a Viking ship of war. Tracy’s father, a Vietnam vet, has hidden an old ammo box with a set of dogtags inside, and their discovery sets into motion Tracy’s process of remembering her past and connecting it with the present. Only 11, Tracy is realistically inarticulate, yet the depth of her emotion and suffering comes through. Never reverting to stereotypes, Partridge uses Tracy and Stargazer's fast friendship to help capture the ambivalence of the culture toward the war, as well as the struggle of the vets to personally cope with their experiences. A strong yet gentle read.” – Kirkus