The Story Behind the Story: The Envelope

Back in the spring and summer of 2012, I was working on a massive U.S. history project as part of my day job. As I edited a series of lessons about American involvement in Vietnam, I found myself wondering what it might have been like to receive a draft notice. What would it have been like for a young man who had already lost an older brother to the war?

The more I researched, the clearer the story became. I scoured the Internet and found images of the Orders to Report for Physical Examination and Orders to Report for Induction. Being so used to digitally generated form letters, I was struck by the uneven typewriting on the notices. I had to put that detail in the story. After all, it's those kind of details that bring to life the history in historical fiction.

During the story's planning stages, I thought maybe Quincy would fail his physical examination. By the time I started drafting, though, I knew with absolute certainly that Quincy would pass, forcing him to wrestle with his options. Ultimately, he would decide to dodge the draft, catching a bus to Canada instead of reporting for induction as ordered. But my characters, I have found, often have minds of their own and Quincy was no different. He caught a bus, alright---just not the one I had planned.

I took a draft of the story to my then-writer's group, one of whom is a Vietnam veteran. I admit to being a little nervous about his reading the story. I'd read parts of his memoir about his service in Vietnam, and I wanted very much to do justice to the Vietnam experience. To this day, I cannot recall with any clarity what feedback the other members of the group gave me, but I do remember Dan's. He told me his experience had been similar to Quincy's; he too had kept his draft notice secret from his family. I still cherish his words, because they validated my interpretation of events. I had gotten my story right. Thank you, Dan! (On a side note, someday Dan will publish his memoir. I, for one, can't wait to read it in its entirety.)


Click here to read "The Envelope."