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Interview: Robert Wideman, Author of ‘Unexpected Prisoner’

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author-photoRobert Wideman was born in Montreal, grew up in upstate New York, and has dual U.S.-Canadian citizenship. During the Vietnam War, he flew 134 missions for the U.S. Navy and spent six years as a prisoner of war. He earned a master’s degree in finance from the Naval Postgraduate School. After retiring from the Navy, he graduated from the University of Florida College of Law, practiced law in Florida and Mississippi, and became a flight instructor. He holds a commercial pilot’s license with an instrument rating. He belongs to Veterans Plaza of Northern Colorado and lives in Fort Collins near his two sons and six grandchildren. 

Congratulations on the release of your book, Unexpected Prisoner. When did you start writing and what got you into nonfiction?

I started to write this book six years ago. After four years, I discovered that I had only written 100 pages. Two years ago, at age 71, I realized that I might not finish this book before someone put me in the ground. I contacted Graham Communications in Denver, Colorado. Mark Graham introduced me to Cara Lopez Lee. I gave her my 100 pages and another 700 pages of transcripts that I had made from 30 hours of interviews I did in 1973. She finished writing my book two years later. She did a great job.

I got into non-fiction by accident, because I wanted to leave a permanent record of my POW experience in North Vietnam for my two sons and six grandchildren. The only way to do that was to actually sit down and begin writing.

What is your book about?

This book is about my six years as a prisoner of war in Vietnam. I talk about our treatment by the North Vietnamese, both good and bad. I talk about how the Vietnam War affected the families of POWs. I talk about the conflicts among POWs and the personality conflicts we had to endure. I also rebut what our government and the senior American POWs told the American people and the world about our treatment.

What was your inspiration for it?

I wrote this book for my two sons and six grandchildren. I wanted something down on paper that was permanent for them. I also wrote this book for families of POWs. I have always said that the Vietnam POW experience was harder on our families than it was on us. We knew that we were getting two slops and a flop every day. Our families knew nothing. Finally, I wrote this book to rebut some of the misinformation our government and senior POW officer told the American public and the world about the treatment of American POWs in North Vietnam.

Who is your target audience?

My target audience is anyone who wants to know the whole truth about the Vietnam POW experience. I am especially happy that Vietnam veterans, who fought on the ground, like my book. They are my true heroes, because they had to bear the brunt of battle in Vietnam. My book also seems to appeal to anyone who is going through a rough time in his or her life. I think they relate to the adversity in my book. I think the Vietnam veterans relate to my book because it supports what they went through and how they feel.
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What type of challenges did you face while writing this book?

For starters, I hate writing. I am a walking writer’s block. It took me four years to write one hundred pages. I am an outdoors person; so sitting at a desk for hours is not my thing. I would much rather be outdoors playing golf or walking in the Northern Colorado foothills. I finally got Cara Lopez Lee to finish my book because I thought that I would die before I finished it on my own. She did a great job.

What do you hope readers will get from your book?

I hope that readers will have a more complete understanding about what happened in the prison camps in North Vietnam. Our government and the senior American POWs wanted to give the world and the American people a certain image of what life was like in those camps. Our government and those senior POWs omitted much of what actually happened in North Vietnam, because they wanted to shape the narrative to support their positions.

Did your book require a lot of research?

My book did not require a lot of research on my part because I had what I wanted t say in my head. I also had 700 pages of transcripts taken from 30 hours of interviews I did in 1973 soon after I came home from Vietnam. I believe that my co-author did a little research on a few specific areas like the siege at Khe Sanh, opium use in Vietnam, and the types of trees that grew in Vietnam.

What was your publishing process like?

The publishing process was a nightmare. For starters, I went with IngramSpark. Amazon took 55% of the retail price off the top. Then IngramSpark took another $6.44 for printing. That left me with only $.74 per book.  The retail price was $15.95, so the profit was less than 5%. I thought that was outrageous. Traditional publishers will give you 10% profit. The whole idea with self-publishing is to make a higher profit margin than with the traditional publishers. I finally went with Createspace and now I receive $4.25 a book. I can live with that. I am still with Ingramspark for all other outlets, because Createspace only deals with amazon. It is now clear to me that the publishing industry was created for the benefit of publishers, printers and distributors. It definitely was not designed for the benefit of authors.

What is your advice for aspiring authors?

Don’t give up.  Every one has a story that can be put down on paper. If at first you do not succeed, then try try again. If you stick with it, you will eventually have something you can be proud of.

What has writing taught you?

Writing has taught me patience and humility. Writing is very, very hard. In this way writing is akin to golf. I actually hate writing, but felt that I had to do this for my sons and grandchildren. Writing has also taught me to do a little piece at a time. In that way writing is like art. You have so sit down and write for a little bit, then you just have to get up and walk away from it for a while. Then you return and continue writing. You have to repeat this until you are finished writing your piece.

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About Mayra Calvani

Mayra Calvani writes fiction and nonfiction for children and adults and has authored over a dozen books, some of which have won awards. Her stories, reviews, interviews and articles have appeared on numerous publications such as The Writer, Writer’s Journal, Multicultural Review, and Bloomsbury Review, among many others. Represented by Serendipity Literary.