Birth of a book

Fourth and Forever, was the one that required the most effort.  That implies that it was more difficult to write, and that wasn’t the case.  Fourth and Forever wrote itself – from its beginning, in the fall of 1986, until I hit “save and publish” in January 2011, it continued to expand and grow like a child reaching for new experiences, scaling new heights, and opening new doors.

For that to make sense you should know something about the book.   It is the story of Josh Edwards, who is born and raised in Valley Head, Alabama.  When Kathy Sutton, who has just moved to Valley Head from Dothan, Alabama, walks into his sixth grade classroom, Josh, takes one look at her and falls in love. When they start high school six years later, their personal objectives are identical – get married, have a family, be happy.  They do get married, and they do have a son, and they are very happy, for a long time, in spite of the war in Vietnam, where Josh spends more than three years of his twenty-year army career.

That’s where the book begins – a few months before Josh, a veteran helicopter pilot and flight instructor, retires from the Army.   At that point, Josh, and his son, Bobby, are blindsided by Kathy’s death.  In an effort to put his and Bobby’s life back together, Josh, who did not attend college, suggests that they go to school together.  Bobby, who is in process of selecting a college to attend, loves the idea.  Together they choose the University of Montana, with the idea that it is a long way away from the home they had known with Kathy.   Besides its location, they figure Bobby has a good chance of making the UM football team as a walk on.  What they didn’t figure on was Josh making the team as the kicker and backup quarterback, but that’s what happens.

The rest of the book is about the Grizzlies pursuit of a national championship with, you guessed it, forty-four-year-old Josh Edwards quarterbacking the team.  I finished the manuscript and sent query letters to more than four hundred agents.  Keep in mind, this was years before the Kindle was even a gleam in Jeff Bezos’ eye.  My queries produced over two hundred rejections, and Fourth and Forever went in the desk drawer.  Then a funny thing happened.  Operation Desert Shield became Operation Desert Storm, and all of my repressed Vietnam issues came boiling to the top of my consciousness.   In an effort to figure things out and get the lid back in place, I organized a group of Vietnam Veterans In Fort Payne, Alabama.  We called ourselves Vietnam Veterans Southern Command.  We rented a vacant store, sand-bagged the front, and had regular meetings weekly, and daily impromptu gatherings.  In the process, we learned a lot about PTSD, more than any of the so called experts knew, and, most important, we learned how to deal with it.

At that time, I was professional speaker.  One Sunday, three or four months after organizing Southern Command, I was speaking at the Unity Church in Spokane, Washington.  Just before going on stage at the morning service, David McArthur, the minister, asked, “What have you been doing since I saw you last year?”  We were sitting on the front row of the packed sanctuary.  The choir was singing.   I wondered if I should tell him about Southern Command right there, then I thought, what the heck, and in short, whispered sentences I told him about the group.  With the last notes of the hymn fading, David grabbed my arm and said, “You’ve got to tell everybody about that.”  So I did.  When I finished speaking, I said something like this, “…so if you served in Vietnam, would you stand.  Just stand, right where you are…”  I had an idea that a few guys would stand, and I would say, “Welcome home,” and that would be it.

So much for that idea – no one stood and there wasn’t a sound as people turned to look around.  I had a silly notion that John Denver must have felt just like I was feeling in the movie, Oh God, when he called God as a witness in his trial, and no one appeared.  I waited for what seemed an hour and was probably something less than two minutes, and no one stood.  I raised the mike to my lips, and a half second before I could speak, the sound operator, sitting on the back row, behind the sound board, slowly stood.  There was a collective sigh from the audience, and six more guys, scattered throughout the congregation, stood.  Before I could speak, someone cheered, and then there was a spontaneous, standing ovation for the guys who had stood.  The ovation was followed by hugs and tears and total chaos for at least five minutes.  For the next three years, I closed every service that way, and every time the response was the same.  Then I remembered Fourth and Forever and knew that I had to include PTSD, so I added a section to the book.

I thought it would be done after one more reading.  I should have known better.  About half way through that reading, I realized that third person wasn’t the right point of view for Fourth and Forever, so I rewrote it in first person.   I thought I would resubmit it to agents, but at that point it had become too personal to run the rejection gauntlet, so I put it back in the desk drawer.  It stayed there for almost ten years, and then I purchased my first Kindle and began investigating the possibility of publishing Fourth and Forever as an eBook.

In its first year on Amazon it has gone through three covers, sold a few hundred copies, and accumulated fifteen reviews – fourteen of the reviewers rated Fourth and Forever five star, one, more an attack on me and the fourteen individuals who reviewed the book before him, rated it two stars.

Anyway, I decided to blog about it now because Vietnam and Vietnam Veterans Southern Command is always close to the top of my thoughts, and it was nineteen years ago this month that twenty-seven veterans of Vietnam, the war many would like to forget, gathered at The Best Western in Fort Payne, Alabama, and agreed that it was important that we stick together while we worked through one more fire fight.   That’s what Fourth and Forever is about – one more fire fight, the one that doesn’t end.

Fourth and Forever at

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10 Responses to Birth of a book

  1. Terrific article, best of luck with your books, my respect and admiration to every Veteran of the Vietnam conflict

    • Bert

      Thanks for you kind words. There’s no way for me to tell you how much that means. It took me more than 40 years to discover the power in the simple phrase, “Welcome home.” I suppose that’s because it was more than forty years after I got home before I heard it.
      Yours to count on,

  2. Jack Durish

    I think that the amount of time and effort required to complete a novel reflects the amount of caring you have for the story. That doesn’t mean you can’t write a good novel if you don’t really care about the story. Mickey Spillane dictated a story in a week and every one of his was a classic. He didn’t have to care, they just poured out of him that good.

    • Bert

      Then there was Rumi with a scribe by his side 24/7 – maybe someday we’ll have a scribe or two tagging along beside us – hope they know how to write.
      Thanks for the comment Jack – I do appreciate you wisdom.

  3. Going to war is nothing compared to coming home. A braver or wiser man I do not know. Beautiful post, my dear.
    Christina Carson recently posted…Be Not AfraidMy Profile

  4. Caleb Pirtle

    The past forever haunts us. Those of us who served during the Vietnam War have a special, even mysterious, fascination with those days and a deep understanding of the courageous men who gave their lives for a country that did not appreciate them and left so much of their soul in the jungles of a land that so few of us even knew existed. We are fortunate that a few of you can write brilliant books that help everyone, so many decades later, have a better grasp of the toll it on took on the survivors. FOURTH AND FOREVER uses football as a metaphor of the war as one young man seeks to right a life that had lost its direction. It is a book that everyone should read and not just because it is a great story.

  5. David L Atkinson

    Superb article Bert and although I write quite quickly there are many hours of thinking go into every page. I think writing for public consumption is a very personal experience.
    David L Atkinson recently posted…Something for the weekend?My Profile

  6. Bert, Thanks so much for giving us the back story on Fourth and Forever. Maybe you need to pioneer a new genre, “books with character.” I believe the world will beat a path to your door to read this and your other books.

    Keep the hammer down.

    Regards, SW

  7. First, let me thank you for your service to our great country! We enjoy the life we live because of people like you.

    Now, as for your awesome book! I found it truly inspirational, just like this post! You speak from the heart and that comes through so clearly in your writing. I’m ever so glad you decided to go Indie and publish this book on your own. Though it isn’t really an “all on your own” deal is it? We are learning, are we not, that the folks navigating the unknown territories of book publishing soon find themselves surrounded with like-minded friends? People like you, Bert! Great post, thanks for sharing and all the best to you!!

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