About Kathy Connor Dobronyi:
“Who did you talk to in Saigon?” he asked.
“No one,” I whispered.
“You were 12-years-old and you didn’t talk to anyone?”
“I was an Army brat. My father was an officer in Military Intelligence,” I explained.
Moments passed. Scenes flashed through my mind. Quiet kitchen. Empty dining room. Vacant carport. Nam. I talked to our Vietnamese houseboy, Nam, who helped me understand what was happening in his country. He talked with me, telling me his story and Viet Nam’s troubled history.
At exactly 1300 hours, military time, Kelly Crager from the Vietnam Oral History Project at Texas Tech, called to begin my interview. His question not only changed my life, it changed the direction of the memoir I was trying to write. Under the Wings of a Good Luck Phoenix is the testament of friendship between a young girl faced with war and a Vietnamese man who lived through the uncertainties of change.
I was born in New Jersey in 1951 and was baptized three years later in Maryland. When Hawaii became a state in 1959, I was there. I was also in Viet Nam when it became a war in 1963. Those were the first twelve years of my life as an Army brat.
Traveling ended in November 1968 when my father retired from the Army and the family moved to Tucson. Two years later, I married Roger Dobronyi. In 1989, I received my degree in Secondary Social Studies from the University of Arizona and began teaching high school.
Storytelling was always a part of my life and my teaching. I listened avidly to great Hawaiian storytellers on Oahu. Wherever I went, I always listened to people who had stories to tell.
I faced a major challenge when my husband Roger and I retired to the west coast of Florida. I knew nothing about the state, its history, or its people. When a friend declared, “I sure wish someone would tell my story,” I embarked on a new career, telling tales of Florida Cracker History.
My popular performances led to an interview and meeting with H. Lee Helscel, editor of the South Marion Citizen, a small Ocala newspaper. Lee was surprised to learn that my family and I were living in Saigon in 1963. The first visit between editor and storyteller led to an eight-part series in the paper. Reader response was overwhelming with demands for me to write my coming-of-age memoir.
What inspires you to write?
Write a memoir? NEVER! Well, maybe with a little help and encouragement. Maybe with lots of luck.
Under the Wings of a Good Luck Phoenix is a memoir of when I was a twelve-year-old American girl in Saigon in 1963-64. The title came from a cheap tin medallion that was a popular Christmas present in 1963 for anyone living in Saigon. It had been an extremely rough year with government unrest, Buddhist martyrs and terrorist bombings. Many people bought the necklace, seeking the luck they hoped could be found under the wings of a Vietnamese phoenix, their symbol of peace and harmony.
Writing my memoir began in a very unusual way.
I was one of 4,000 American civilians living in Saigon in 1963. I had a unique story to tell, but didn’t want to write it. When introducing myself, I often said that I was born in New Jersey and baptized in Maryland. I was in Hawaii when it became a state and in Viet Nam when it became a war. That was the first twelve years of my life.
Succinct and definitely an ice breaker. Was my father in the military? Yes. Often they would begin talking about where they were and what they were doing during the Vietnam War.
I was a popular local storyteller who was interviewed for the local paper in 2007. The reporter included my standard introductory speech in her article. It caught the eye of the editor, Lee Helscel who served as a soldier in Viet Nam from 1967-68. He wondered what I was doing in Saigon in 1963.
The next time I was at the office, he asked me to write an eight-part series for the newspaper. Lee was surprised by the large reader response the articles generated and suggested I write a book.
Using the series as an outline, I was ready to begin. Now it was time to research my memories. In two years, I found data that confirmed key events in Saigon in 1963-64. I read hundreds of books written by people who lived and experienced that period—Vietnamese and American, children, women, and soldiers. I not only confirmed my memories, I found an audience.
My goal was to write a conventional memoir to be recommended reading for sociology classes. That changed when a gentleman approached me after a presentation and suggested I write a YA coming-of-age book. At first I was offended, but didn’t forget. It had possibilities.
Daily in my imagination I would visit Saigon, entering our duplex at 214-A Yen Do. In these pictures I would watch and listen to scenes of my childhood, recording sights and sounds. As I came to the end of my memoir, I wondered about the conclusion. What did I learn during my nine-month sojourn in the capital of South Viet Nam at the beginning of the Vietnam War?
One day I was talking to my husband and said, “There are no guarantees in life.” When did I first have this belief? My mind went back to a kitchen and the words of a wise man, “There are no guarantees, Kattee. Reach for luck. Wear good luck pendant. Pray to God, but always remember nothing guarantee. No guarantee tomorrow sun rise, bird sing. No guarantee everything good. Bomb explode. People die. That life Katee, that life.”
In Saigon I learned these words that would guide me to be the woman I am today. I know there are no guarantees. I know it is very important to cherish life. Never take it for granted nor waste it. Live as if it were your last day with no regrets or shame. What a remarkable thing to learn when I was twelve-years-old growing and changing from a child to a woman.
Tell us about your writing process.
I begin with an idea and write for an hour without stopping. I don’t type at the computer, but use my special writing pen to put my words in a spiral notebook, skipping lines to make additions and notes. I enjoy the risk of writing intimately, watching the actions in the scene unfold and listening to what is happening to my characters. The next day I type my work into the computer, giving the distance needed to craft the chapter. The computer allows me to cut and paste if I think a paragraph needs to be moved, and it also allows me to easily make and save changes.
I depend heavily on sequence and dates of events.
Many times I write in a group, sharing my work with other writers. At certain points in your writing, it is important to get input from readers and writers. Some suggestions were ludicrous, but many enhanced the quality of my writing and story.
For Fiction Writers: Do you listen (or talk to) to your characters?
Yes. In my memoir I watched and listened as my memories happened again. Mother, Father, Michael, and Nam came alive in my imagination, and I was able to use this to make the story more authentic.
What advice would you give other writers?
Find a place and time and write. It doesn't have to be hours and hours or days and days, but view your writing as a part-time job. I write from 10:00 to noon every day. A study room at the local library is scheduled for every Tuesday where I do deep editing undisturbed.
How did you decide how to publish your books?
Long before my writing was completed, I began researching the steps needed to publish. My intro was with the Florida Writers Association where I first learned the vocabulary of publishing. I attended numerous conferences and took copious notes. I also studied how-to books and found ways to make my story marketable. Everything became pieces of a puzzle to publication.
When I began, the publishing world was changing. Publishing houses, mighty markets of industry, were challenged from two fronts—eBooks and independent publishing.
At first I primarily focused on ways to enter the traditional publishing world, I didn’t ignore the alternatives.
When it came time to publish Under the Wings of a Good Luck Phoenix, I realized the steps taken to attract traditional publishers worked to my benefit if I became an indie publisher.
My story has come full circle beginning with an eight-part series in a traditionally-published newspaper to an independent publisher.
With a little luck, who knows what the future of my book will be. The good luck phoenix I received over five decades ago still spreads its wings over me.
What do you think about the future of book publishing?
I think there will always be books because people need reflective moments that reading can provide. Talking heads on television or radio are fine for easy entertainment, but books offer insight to human nature. For example, numerous books concerning the 2016 Election are awaiting publication.
I do not believe book publishing will reach the power achieved in the 19th and 20th centuries, but the publishing industry will adapt and thrive to the demands of readers.
What do you use?: Beta Readers
What genres do you write?: Memoir
What formats are your books in?: Both eBook and Print
All information in this post is presented “as is” supplied by the author. We don’t edit to allow you the reader to hear the author in their own voice.