Bill Vernon served in the United States Marine Corps, studied English literature, then taught it. Writing is his therapy, along with exercising outdoors and doing international folk dances. His poems, stories and nonfiction have appeared in a variety of magazines and anthologies, and Five Star Mysteries published his novel Old Town in 2005.
In this interview with editor Dariel Suarez he talks about writing as therapy, his experience in the US Marine Corps and his transition from student to teacher.
Your nonfiction piece “Taking Liberties” feels very powerful and personal, but it’s narrated in a seemingly calmed, almost matter-of-fact voice. Did you intend for the voice to come across this way? Was the piece difficult or easy to write?
Getting the right point of view was tricky and I tried it several ways. What I ended up using was the narrator trying to depict his teenage self's understanding at the time of the experience while, in contrast, many decades later, he knows the experience has somehow negatively affected him. His childish innocence has given way to suspicion and some awareness. As a boy he instinctively suspected what happened but trusted enough to accept it. Still, something like shame kept him from reporting the fondling to his mother. Things were left unsaid. Things should have been said. There's still a mystery here to the old man narrator, me.
You mention in your bio that writing serves as therapy for you. Could you expand on this?
Writing lets me grapple mentally with issues and experiences. It improves my understanding of them and offers emotional rewards. Reliving experience in my imagination can relieve negative emotions if they were involved.
How have your experiences in the Marine Corps influenced your creative process? Do you often explore your military background in your own work?
I did a lot of cathartic poetry writing about my military days. I've recently started writing nonfiction stories about those four years of interesting experiences. E.g., my unit in Cherry Point, North Carolina, nearly wiped out JFK and some of the Joint Chiefs of Staff during an incompetent demonstration of pre-Vietnam War technology. There were a lot of rough experiences. I warn everyone about joining up, but the Corps definitely took off the blinders and forced me to see more clearly.
What did you find more challenging, studying or teaching English literature? Can you describe the transition of going from student to teacher?
Studying was fun and enlightening, teaching scared me. I wasn't used to speaking in front of crowds. I did a lot of bungling in the classroom, but thankfully my students were tolerant and respectful.
Can you tell us a bit more about your novel, Old Town? Where can readers find it?
Old Town, structured as a murder mystery, deals with the preservation of an historically important 18th century Shawnee Indian village site, where Tecumseh lived, Daniel Boone and others were held captive, and Kentuckians attacked. It is just north of Xenia, Ohio and has in fact recently been preserved. I think the book also allegorically says something about how modern American life alienates many of its citizens. The book is out of print but a few copies are still available at Amazon (and I have a few for sale).
Who would you say are your main literary influences?
Normal Mailer, John Irving, Thomas Wolfe, Wendell Berry, Gary Snyder, and Ted Kooser have influenced me.
Are you working on any particular projects at the moment?
A memoir made up of 110 stories, including "Taking Liberties." And a follow-up memoir about my four Marine Corps years. I've also been working on two novel sequels to Old Town.