Image by Ruslan Bardash

Twenty Years Lost

Seeking Representation

Image by Holly Mindrup

Historical Fiction, Complete at 90,700 words

My Vietnamese tour guide looked hesitant after I told him I was writing a book about the Vietnam War. It wasn’t until we pulled off to the side of the road on a hill overlooking an abandoned US encampment long since retaken by the jungle that he asked why I wanted to write this book. I began explaining my desire to honor those who served, the man I had known who seemed never to have fully come home, and the tension that always lingered in a conversation whenever one spoke the words ‘Vietnam War’ in America. “I want to know the truth,” I finished.

“This is good,” he replied. “This is important. My father fought for both the North and the South. He told me a lot and I will try to share it with you. But…” he moved closer. “You must promise not to use my name. The communists here…”

I remembered what I had read about what happened to those who did not fall in with government ideology in communist countries back in the sixties. I had assumed it was a relic of the Cold War. Looking at his face, I realized I had been humiliatingly idealistic. “I will not use your name.” I couldn’t understand why he was willing to risk so much to share the truth with me. But the weight of responsibility for listening and understanding fell heavy on me. “Thank you.”

He nodded. “Truth is important.”

It was from experiences like this that TWENTY YEARS LOST was born—a book about a woman who searches for her missing father and stumbles on a missing war.

Hardened by living with a mother that jumps from one abusive relationship to another, Deborah clings to the image of her father, Alex, like a night-light. But when faced with the opportunity to finally meet him, she must let go of the imagined guardian and face a stranger—one who her mother, Rachel, claims abandoned her at birth to fight a war in Southeast Asia. But why did he never come home? She’s not sure she’s ready to let go of her comforting views of right and wrong for the complications of war and finally face the truth, but with her father dying of Agent Orange exposure and her best friend on the verge of suicide after deployment, she can no longer afford to hide in fantasy.

It will take deployment during Operation Desert Storm, a jarring revelation from her best friend and fellow soldier, and a trip to Vietnam alongside her father to uncover the truth. By reading his journal and traveling through the country where he spent his youth, Deborah begins to understand the pain that must have kept him away. But when Deborah discovers that Rachel had told Alex she miscarried twenty years ago to get back at him for the pain he caused her by leaving on deployment, she must finally let go of moral idealism to embrace the family she has in the world as it is—imperfect, but enough.