Northwest of Eden by Yancy Caruthers
Click here to read my review for Northwest of Eden
Every so often we stumble onto a book that seems to have been destined to cross our paths; one such for me was Yancy Caruthers’ Northwest of Eden. I’m exceedingly grateful to the friend who gifted it, for along with it she passed to me the gift of witnessing compassion, laughter and glimpses into a world I didn’t know much about, but should.
I knew before I was halfway through I would be reviewing this magnificent work. Less than 200 pages, it is accessible and gripping, but ought not to be mistaken for a breezy beach read. Filled with insight and questions, the sights, smells, events, colors (or sometimes desert lack thereof) will provoke laughter and tears as it, in the words of a recent reader, “takes you deep into Iraq.” An Amazon top reviewer called it “M.A.S.H for a new century,” and Soldier of Fortune magazine printed a five-page excerpt in November 2014.
Northwest of Eden is now on my forever shelf, and it will be a definite re-read. I also look forward to more by this author.
To read my review for Northwest of Eden, click here.
We are so fortunate here at Before the Second Sleep to have been paid a visit by Yancy Caruthers, who so kindly answered a few questions.
The “About” section of Northwest of Eden states, “[Yancy Caruthers] soon found himself back in the desert writing this story.” Would you say you’re an “accidental author,” as that sentence seems to imply, or have you always planned to write?
This memoir took seven years to complete. Did others in your environment know you were writing it? What made you want to write this particular book?
Let me answer both of these questions at once. During my first deployment, I kept a journal for my children. It was full of everyday, meaningless things, along with terrifying accounts of what was happening. I sealed it in an envelope where it remains today, unread. When I returned to Iraq again as part of a hospital unit, I knew I wanted to write for a public audience. I knew there would be intense experiences, but I didn’t know what they would be or when. For example, I knew there would be a time when a Soldier or Marine under our care would die. I didn’t know when, but I knew it would happen, and I wanted to capture that moment so that others could understand the experience. By writing about my life as it happened, I noticed something strange was happening: instead of just existing, I focused more on my own reactions as well as the reactions of others. I paid more attention to my own Soldiers. I think it unintentionally made me a better leader.
Apart from the obvious immediate influences on your writing, what else informs how and what you put to paper (or the screen)?
I’ve learned a lot from my best friend, Sam, who I also my cover artist. Sam is a writer as well, and he’s been at it a lot longer than I have. We’ve been best friends since second grade, so if a passage reads badly, he’ll tell me what he thinks I need to do to make it better.
Northwest of Eden references violence committed and some rather heartbreaking passages—these events occur in a war zone, after all—yet there also are moments of great humor and wit. Were you at all concerned this might put some people off?
Not at all. That was a reflection of how it was. Humor, sometimes of the darkest kind, is one way that people cope with that kind of stress and heartache. If there isn’t a mechanism, then people go cold and stop caring about their jobs. When lives are at stake, that’s the last thing anyone wants. My team and I were a bunch of clowns in the off-time, but we cared about what we did – we laughed hard, but we trained hard, worked hard, and cried hard when it didn’t go right. It made us human.
What is the most important thing you believe readers need to know about your book and genre?
Truth. For good, bad, or ugly, that’s the way it was. It’s different for combat troops, drivers, or pilots, but my story is mine. War is horrible and stupid and unnecessary in every sense of those words, but the people around me were the way I made it through. Maybe I’m not quite intact, but I made it. That’s the thing to keep in mind about reading a war story. It requires an open mind. Each story is what it is.
Where do you hope to take your writing in the future? Would you like to try your hand at another genre?
I’ve told my story, and I’m trying now to tell the stories of others, which has been different and fun and a little sobering. My current work in progress is called “Medic!” and it is a series of six true stories about military medics in each of the living wars. I’m finished with Desert Storm (Part 4) and Iraq (Part 5) is coming out soon, but finding older vets willing to talk about WW2, Korea, and Vietnam is a lot harder. The subject of Part 6 will be the hardest to find – I am looking for someone who served in Afghanistan who was a small child on 9-11 and not old enough to remember what it meant.
Do you listen to music as you write? What kind of music do you like?
I’m a big 80s music fan, but I prefer quiet time to write. Background noise is okay if I’m on a roll. I draft about 1,000 words/hour at full throttle, but average only about 3,000/week of final product.
Type or longhand?
I type, unless I hit a wall. Then I’ve been known to print out a few pages of hardcopy and sit in bed, writing all over it in longhand. The two actions seem to be a different part of my brain, and when one is stuck, the other sometimes works.
E-books or paperback?
Both. The future might be in e-books, but I love to talk to people, so I do lots of public events and book signings. As a result, e-books are only about 40% of my sales. I’m trying to figure out what works for me in promoting my online presence, but most venues have so far turned out to be snake oil.
Any writing quirks?
I’m very easily distracted, because I think in 3-D and I’m always thinking about unimportant stuff. Facebook is the bane of my writing existence.
Any projects currently on deck?
As I work on “Medic!” I’m getting in front of several veterans’ groups. I’m hoping to do a big publicity push on Veterans’ Day this year. One of my area communities does a big festival and I am working to be a part of that.
Is there anything else you’d like to mention?
Just that writing isn’t always fun, but the process should be. It’s about telling a story. The likelihood of writing a great book, posting it online, and selling a million copies without ever opening the shades is just not realistic. I love getting out, talking to people, and speaking in front of groups. Anyone who wants to write seriously should be doing the same. It isn’t always comfortable.
Yancy Caruthers, thank you so much for joining us here today, and I wish you great success with Northwest of Eden as well as all your future endeavors. It’s been a pleasure.
About the Author:
Yancy Caruthers is an Iraq war veteran, registered nurse, retired Army Reserve officer, and former U.S. diplomat. He is the author of Northwest of Eden, a memoir of his second deployment as the second-in-command of an Army emergency room in the heart of Anbar province. He lives with his family in southwest Missouri.
Yancy is currently working on “Medic!,” a series of true stories about combat medics in each of the living wars. They will be released separately as e-books and eventually combined under one cover, assuming the author doesn’t get distracted.
Note: This post has been updated to include purchasing and review links.
I would also like to extend a deep thank you to Yancy Caruthers for his unflagging patience with my questions on- and off screen, and for his service and continued dedication to others.