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Montrose Voice, No. 48, September 25, 1981
File 016
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Montrose Voice, No. 48, September 25, 1981 - File 016. 1981-09-25. University of Houston Libraries. University of Houston Digital Library. Web. January 16, 2021. https://digital.lib.uh.edu/collection/montrose/item/9336/show/9330.

Disclaimer: This is a general citation for reference purposes. Please consult the most recent edition of your style manual for the proper formatting of the type of source you are citing. If the date given in the citation does not match the date on the digital item, use the more accurate date below the digital item.

(1981-09-25). Montrose Voice, No. 48, September 25, 1981 - File 016. Montrose Voice. University of Houston Libraries. Retrieved from https://digital.lib.uh.edu/collection/montrose/item/9336/show/9330

Disclaimer: This is a general citation for reference purposes. Please consult the most recent edition of your style manual for the proper formatting of the type of source you are citing. If the date given in the citation does not match the date on the digital item, use the more accurate date below the digital item.

Montrose Voice, No. 48, September 25, 1981 - File 016, 1981-09-25, Montrose Voice, University of Houston Libraries, accessed January 16, 2021, https://digital.lib.uh.edu/collection/montrose/item/9336/show/9330.

Disclaimer: This is a general citation for reference purposes. Please consult the most recent edition of your style manual for the proper formatting of the type of source you are citing. If the date given in the citation does not match the date on the digital item, use the more accurate date below the digital item.

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Title Montrose Voice, No. 48, September 25, 1981
Contributor
  • McClurg, Henry
Publisher Community Publishing Company
Date September 25, 1981
Language English
Subject
  • LGBTQ community
  • LGBTQ people
  • Gay liberation movement
Place
  • Houston, Texas
Genre
  • newspapers
Type
  • Text
Identifier OCLC: 22329406
Collection
  • University of Houston Libraries Special Collections
  • LGBT Research Collection
  • Montrose Voice
Rights In Copyright
Note This item was digitized from materials loaned by the Gulf Coast Archive and Museum (GCAM).
Item Description
Title File 016
Transcript September 25,1981 / Montrose Voice 15 Book Feature A conversation with author Charles Nelson By Perry Deane Young Charles Nelson is author of The Boy Who Picked the Bullets Up, released this month by its publisher, William Morrow and Company. Chuck, not Charles, called to say he was in town and ready for the interview the publisher had arranged with me. Apparently I was a combination they couldn't find elsewhere—a writer who had been in Vietnam but who was also homosexual and able to talk about it. Nelson is almost exactly one year younger than I, but he was in Vietnam a year before I was—he as a Navy Corps- man assigned to the Marines in Chu Lai and Danang; I as a correspondent with UPI. In his novel, The Boy Who Picked the Bullets Up, Nelson's fictional corps- man tells his story through letters to four different people back in the States. I identified so totally with the narrator, I could easily have written these letters myself. Nelson chooses to live mostly in a heterosexual world, sometimes with a woman, always with his ideal sex partner—usually a straight man who's never done it before. As I drove across Washington to Nelson's hotel, I couldn't help but wonder if the author would measure up to his fictional creation. Nelson's Kurt was 6'3" tall and weighed 200 pounds. So was the distinguished looking Charles Nelson, dressed in newly bought gray slacks, dark blazer, blue shirt and tie. Dark patches under his eyes betrayed his lack of sleep; his thin hair was left long and draped across a bare forehead. He gains weight when he writes; he had obviously been writing a spell. He accepts it as part of growing older. He could never pick up a good looking gay guy and a straight man wouldn't care so much about the age of a good head. Most authors who wrote about Vietnam didn't even dare speak of homosexuality, but of those of us who tried, nobody has done it so well as Charles Nelson has in this novel. Sex, of course, is only one part of the narrator's life and only part of the novel—but I feel it is a most important part of life and I salute former Corpsman Nelson for telling it as it was. I'd like to do the interview in two parts—first, the facts about your life, starting with your date of birth and your parents and how you were raised; and then, how you come to write this book and how much of it is based on fact. I was born March 16, 1942, in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania. My daddy was a coal miner. He died when I was about 13 and we moved to DeLand, Florida. I have two younger brothers and a step-sister. My mother said she married two times— the first time for love and sex, the second time for money. We married into ah old Southern family that had money. I always knew I was queer. My uncle seduced me when I was about 6 or 7. He was about fifteen. At school, I sort of decided that being queer and being smart were the same thing. I rather liked being liked, so I stopped being smart. I became so normal my mother pulled me out of school when I was 16 to work in the family fernery. I did finish high school and then I went to a real podunk junior college for a while. When I was about 20 I found New York. After two years in New York, I went back to school for a year and then I went into the Navy in October of 1965—and I stayed in and got an honorable discharge. Some people don't believe that, but I got an honorable discharge. See last week's Voice for a review of The Boy Who Picked the Bullets Up I liked it in the Navy. You were taken care of; it was like a big womb, like in school. They made me a medic, and that's one of the best things you can be in the service because nobody messes with you too much. I went to the Great Lakes Training Center for basic training and for corpsman school. They trained us well in the Navy. Then I went to Newport, R.I., where they put me in a hospital on pediatrics. Then I went to Camp LeJeune where they did not train us to be combat medics. I'm pretty bitter about that. We had one 3-mile hike and we had calisthenics once, and unless you were pushy and could get up to the front you never learned anything about wounds. It was cool there in North Carolina and a lot of us were sent straight into the jungles in Vietnam. We weren't tough. They choose smart people to be medics, not tough ones. That's true in the book where I say that ofthe 800 of our group who went to Vietnam only 260 made it back. Where were you in Vietnam ? I was with the 1st Medical Battalion at Chu Lai and then we moved up to Danang. I was lucky; I got put on KP right away and stayed there for 30 days. How long were you there? From October of '66 until November of '67—it was a 13-month tour. Were you out in the field much ? (Sarcastically) It's all in the book, everything's true in it. No ... I was out for one, two, and three days at a time, but I was never stuck out there; I was not a member of a CAP team. And when you came back? They wouldn't allow corpsmen who had served in Vietnam to work under nurses. My only prejudice is against nurses and that's me in the book. I decided to be a lab technician and that's what I was the last year I was in service. Newport was a triple threat town- there was the old town, the rich people, very social, and all those sailors. Eventually I moved into the YMCA. I got an early out so I could go back to school. But I couldn't get into that, so I hitchhiked around the country. Nixon got elected president and I decided I didn't want to live in a country that would elect him. I moved to Europe. My lover was a film director in Berlin and he helried me get into some films. It's so hard to call him a lover. I liked the guy. He was my buddy. We went to bed together. That lasted about a year and that's the longest I've ever lived with anybody—but it was totally with the understanding that we would have other things going on. So he got me in several films, but I never did go anywhere with it. I was paying my own way but it was still all through him. I came back to the States so I could be on my own. I felt the whold world was waiting for me if I would just finish school. I graduated from Stetson University, a Baptist school in DeLand, Florida. What sort of work did you get into after graduating from college? I've had all kinds of jobs. I was a jail guard and got caught the first time I went down on a guy. I was a hospital orderly and made it with about 30 patients before they caught me. Then, I painted sawmills in the Pacific Northwest; did construction work in Austin, Texas; then collected unemployment in San Diego. I came back and got a job as a postman in DeLand—all I saw were old people so I didn't get in any trouble. Everything is grist for the mill for me; I love trade. What got me off for a while was doing it with one guy while his buddy watched (both of them straight); and then I wanted them to do it while I watched them. You'd be surprised how many I got that way. It was a pretty down life for the most part. Then, a little girl—19 or 20— fell in love with me. I told her all about me and she still wanted to move in. This is where we came to writing the book. Tell me about that. When I was in college, I wrote some papers and I got some A's and that was the first time I ever had an A. I always got my papers back saying "this is not original." Then, a really good professor, Brad Crain, let me write what I wanted to write. So I took these papers to my friend, Paul Schmidt, who did a biography and translation of Rimbaud. We met at Pro- vincetown when I was 20 years old. I was always in awe of him. He had his doctorate in linguistics from Harvard and he taught Russian. I showed him the papers I had done and he said, "Goddamn, Chuck, this is shit. You can't write worth a shit." But he also said, "What you can do is write fantastic letters." This was about 1972 when I was working at the post office and my old lady was going to college. She didn't like it because I had Sunday off and she had to study. So I decided I would take some speed and write—although I don't usually have anything to do with drugs. Charles Nelson To write, I decided, I had to get rid of my life; I had to write a book about my life and then I could go on to what's important. I wrote all day for five Sundays. I had three novels outlined. We moved to San Diego and were living on my unemployment. I have myself a raison d'etre by writing. Then we were invited to this party, and I saw Paul there for the first time in a long time. He said for me to send him what I had. I had about 90-100 pages about Vietnam so I sent that to him. He said, "Listen, Chuck, I expected what you wrote to be funny but I didn't expect genius"—he uses that word easily. He said, "You write; I'll edit for you and find you a publisher." That went on for a couple of years. He taught me how to write and he suggested that I use the letter form for the novel. But beyond that it was all me—including who the letters would be addressed to. There were eleven drafts of the book in five and a half years—and he helped me with two. Are any of these actual letters you wrote from Vietnam ? Only one letter addressed to Chloe and that was one I sent to my sister. That was the one about the chopper going down. At the end of it I couldn't believe I said that, but I really wrote, "Other than that, not much is happening." One draft of the book I did while I was being a guinea pig for NASA. At the time I was working for an insurance company and getting nowhere—then, I saw this ad in the newspaper saying, "Do you want to make money lying in bed?" It sounded pretty good to me. Evidently, the astronauts were losing calcium in their bones when they went to outer space and NASA was trying to find some medicines that would counteract this. For six weeks, volunteers were allowed to walk around; then for six weeks we were in bed flat on our backs. We had our own color TV's and stereos. They said I was the only one who had never turned on his TV. I was writing. How did you find a publisher for the book? I finally got a good agent, Anita Dia- mant, who represented Mandingo books. She sent it to eight major publishing houses. This went on for two years, when it finally reached the desk of Bob Bender, an editor at William Morrow & Co. I loved working with him. We argued over only one or two things. Kurt's prejudice, I felt was true to the character; Bender felt it was not necessary. What about baseball? Were you ever on a major league farm team ? I played baseball in junior college but I was terrible. What about the sex in Vietnam ? How much of that is what you really did? Kurt's me for the most part, but it's like my girl friend would always say: he's a lot younger, butcher, braver, smarter and wittier than you. I mean, it's a novel. My brother tells me he doesn't think Kurt is telling the truth in those letters. What about those bunkers at the airport? I made it several times in them. I never did. * (Laughter) And does it really matter if it's based on fact if it is true in the book ? What are you working on now ? It's about Kurt from the cradle to the cross; there'll be much more about baseball and family and Europe. And sex. And sex. This Kurt has not even begun to get into some of the stuff I've done. The interviewer, Perry Deane Young, is the author of Two Of The Missing, A Reminiscence Of Some Friends In The War (1975) and co-author of The David Kopay Story. He was a correspondent with United Press International in Vietnam in 1968 and returned to the war in late 1972 and early 1973 for the last chapters of his book. He is currently writing a book for Holt, Rinehart & Winston about the latest upsurge of right wing politics and religion in America.
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