Interview Date: October 3, 2016
Hello and welcome to the show. This is your host, Don McCauley. Today we’re welcoming Kathy Connor Dobronyi. She is the author of Under the Wings of a Good Luck Phoenix. Kathy, how are you?
KATHY: I’m just fine. Thank you Don for giving me an opportunity to tell my story.
DON: Tell us a little bit about yourself please.
KATHY: I tell people I was born in New Jersey and baptized in Maryland. I was in Hawaii when it became a state, and Viet Nam when it became a war. That was the first twelve years of my life. After my father retired in 1968, we moved to Tucson, Arizona. I now live with my husband and cat in Florida.
I am also a storyteller. I love to tell stories to locals about Florida.
DON: So tell us about your book.
KATHY: My book is a narrative nonfiction coming-of-age memoir. What does that mean? It reads like a story. It is a story about war. It’s a story about how war changes people.
My memoir is about two people: a 12-year-old American girl and a 38-year-old Vietnamese man who loves his country and has lived through many wars. He sees another war coming, and he teaches me how to deal with life.
DON: Who did you write your book for specifically?
KATHY: I wrote it for people who wanted to know more about what happened in Viet Nam before the war, before we were involved with ground troops. I wrote it for people who wanted to know how war affects us. I have stories in there about different ways, but it was primarily about me and Nam.
DON: Could you say that there is any type of central message or underlying theme that you could say runs through your book?
KATHY: Don’t take life for granted. There’s no guarantee. There’s no guarantee that the sun will rise in the morning. There’s no guarantee that you’ll make it home tonight. There’s no guarantees, but there is one guarantee I guess you could say that you live your life. You don’t take things for granted. You tell people you love them. You hug. You go. You do. You don’t say, “I’ll do it tomorrow.” Do it today. Live your life.
DON: If you could compare your book with any book out there we might already be familiar with, which book would it be and why?
KATHY: I had many reviewers say that my book can be compared to The Diary of Anne Frank. They’re both coming-of-age books at a time of war. Anne had Kitty, her diary to talk to and help her understand what was going on. I had Nam, our 38-year-old houseboy who was from North Viet Nam who had lived through many wars, and he was there to help guide me.
DON: What would you say was your most enlightening experience in Viet Nam?
KATHY: There were many difficult things that happened. I had two enlightening experiences. One was (we’ve just celebrated it a week ago) was the 53rd anniversary of the bombing of the American theater, the Capital Kin Do. Over 200 women and children were in the theater watching Lady and the Tramp when a bomb went off in the women’s bathroom in front, down to the left of the stage. MPs (Military Police) came down the aisles, checked the area and then slowly released us into the aisles until we left the building. No one was injured.
In February of 1964, the second bombing occurred at the theater, and it was devastating. There were many people injured and three people died.
I think the most moving part was connected to the second bombing. My family and I had been in the Philippines when it occurred. When I came back to school, I found everybody was talking about that theater and how they were affected.
When I came home, I told Nam about what I had heard. That’s when he told me there are no guarantees, that you cherish your life and you cherish the people in your life.
DON: What would you say has been your most rewarding experience since publishing your book?
KATHY: Talking to Vietnam veterans and their families. My book, Under the Wings of a Good Luck Phoenix, has made wonderful differences in their lives. They have been able to talk more about what happened to them. They have been able to share, and those who still can’t, their wives and their sisters and their nieces and nephews and sons and daughters have a better understanding.
One of the reasons I called my book Under the Wings of a Good Luck Phoenix is that on the cover there is a medallion. That medallion was a good luck piece that everybody wanted to get for Christmas in 1963 because everybody felt by that time everyone needed luck. I mean everybody not only Americans but French, the Vietnamese. That was a very, very popular Christmas president, and it was to help you have good luck.
When I started my book,. it’s probably one of the few things I have, a piece of jewelry. It is the only piece of jewelry I have left from Viet Nam, and it’s a simple tin medallion, but I felt that I got out of Viet Nam alive with the help of being under the wings of that good luck phoenix.
DON: How would you describe your writing style?
KATHY: It’s very easy, conversational storytelling. I am a storyteller, and I like to make things interesting. I like to write things that make people turn the page. I’ve been told this is a page turner, that when you finish with one paragraph or chapter, you want to know what happens next.
DON: Who or what would you say influenced your writing the most?
KATHY: The person who influenced my writing the most is Lee Helscel. He was the editor of the South Marion Citizen, and he was the one who initially talked me into putting my story onto paper. I had no interest, but he felt that an 8-part series would be a good introduction to a civilian who was involved in a war.
The articles were so popular that he encouraged me to go on to write my memoir.
The first two years, I spent researching my memories because everyone’s memories are different, and they always remember something that maybe is not true.
In my research, I only found two mistakes. One during the November 1 coup with the overthrow of Ngo Dinh Diem, I remember my father saying that Col. Owen was standing next to Big Minh. Turned out it was Col. Conein. The second was in the bombing of the Capital Kinh Do when they showed The List of the Adrian Messenger. I remembered it as The List of the Andrea Dora.
DON: Based on your experience as a writer, what’s the one recommendation you would make to authors just starting out?
KATHY: Read! Read! Read! Read everything you can. Read other writers in your genre. Read different age groups. Read Young Adult. If you have historical fiction or use history, read historians. Read whatever you can because when you do that, you see how the words are crafted, how they’re used, and what’s marketable.
DON: Did you fictionalize any of your characters or any of your situations?
KATHY: No! Absolutely, positively not. If I had done that it would be disrespectful to the people and the situation. I am very much about respect. You show respect by telling the truth, but you also show respect by telling people in a positive light.
Most people don’t start out thinking that they’re really going to do something stupid. They think they’re doing the right thing at the time. When I wrote my book, there were a couple of people who did things. My mother was very good about doing things I didn’t approve of, but there was no reason to trash her or to trash anyone.
A lot of times, memoirs become that. Memoirs become paybacks. This is not a payback. This is a story, and this is an opportunity for people from all over the world because my book sells in Australia, France, the U.K., and Canada. It sells because people want to know what happened in Viet Nam, and I tell the truth about what happened.
DON: In your opinion, who should buy your book?
KATHY: Men and women from 50-70. Children who are 12 or older. Anyone who had a family member in Viet Nam fighting and wants to know more about what happened before American ground troops were there. There were ground troops there when I was there, but they were form Australia, Thailand, and Korea.
DON: Do you have a website?
KATHY: My website is www.kathydobronyi.com. I’m in the midst of changing it because it was primarily to give information about the society of military brats. We are a group of people who are the children of military personnel. Our attitudes and the way we look at life and what’s expected are very different from civilians. My whole idea while I was writing my book was to give people an introduction. I’m in the process of turning it into more of an information site for my book, Under the Wings of a Good Luck Phoenix.
I also have a FB author’s page–Kathy Connor Dobronyi. I use my mother’s diary entries from 1963-64 where I record her perspective and her information. I did not have the diaries available when I was writing the story. When my mother passed away, I received the diaries. I wanted to give a backstory for people who wanted to know more.