Veteran of modern wars channels his military experience through U.S. Civil War Horse and historical fiction
I met Clint Goodwin, Commander, US Navy-Reserve Retired, through LinkedIn. The concept for his new book: Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory – the Civil War as seen through the eyes of a horse – was intriguing. As I came to know more about his military service and writing, I knew I wanted him to share more of his story with us.
Welcome, Clint. What lead you to write this novel?
Post-war Iraq was a difficult adjustment for me as it was for tens of thousands who served. I chose to confront and not to ignore the haze. I needed a healthy outlet to better manage my feelings of anxiety, anger, and frustration attributed to my service in Iraq. This literary project provided me that outlet. Writing my book provided a means to permanently record my perspective and feelings about the Iraq War, post-war challenges, and modern war in general.
Why did you choose to write from the perspective of a horse?
If I chose to write a diary, only my eyes would see it. If chose to write a non-fiction, then my fear of not using the right words or proper context for which people would judge my reality – would consume me. Given the options of the world judging my personal feelings verses those of a fictitious horse – the horse won out.
What opportunities/challenges did the equine perspective create?
Choosing a horse character to act as my conduit was easy for me. I grew up around working horses in Texas. I know their behaviors because they were part of our family. Horses are loyal animals, yet have independent choices that are not always in their rider’s best interest. I have been kicked, bitten, and bucked off many times. However, at the end of the day, that horse was there for me. I clearly believe and most will agree, that horses were necessary participants in the creation of our great Nation.
What kind of research did you do for this book?
Before going to Iraq, I spent several years reading, researching, and visiting Civil War battlefields. I did so because of our country’s modern-day social and economic tensions causing so much unrest after 911. I wanted to know why. I thought the answer would lay in understanding the U.S. Civil War. The wise old saying comes to mind, “history repeats itself.” What struck me the most about the civil war was the sacrifice millions of men and women made in the name of a belief/way of life/economics/politics. Regardless of the side chosen; North or South, those soldiers were willing to die for a future. On Civil War battle anniversaries, I walked the fields of Manassas, Antietam, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, Brandy Station, Gettysburg, Vicksburg, and Petersburg to sense the smallest details such as the weather, foliage, and possible sounds. If we could humanize a horse for moment, then we can agree they paid the ultimate sacrifice as well running over those battlefields. There is a reason why civil war hero statues have the soldier on a horse.
How did your experience serving in the Iraq War influence the story?
My service in Iraq changed me forever as a human being. When we left Iraq, we were given the opportunity to seek insights before returning to the States. I and many others volunteered to listen to a preacher. I will always remember what he said that made sense, “Remember, gentlemen, you are the ones that changed, not your families.” That “change” for me was learning how to lead and live with men and women in an environment that creates unimaginable stress on a human being. In my book, that stress is adopted by my characters who react differently in a given battle scene. I use carefully scripted dialogues to draw out those feelings for the reader. I know every reader will react differently to those descriptors. For example, I lost a close friend in Iraq. We were supposed to have lunch together. I showed up and he was not there. I found out later he died that morning. I did not know. His memorial service was done with his wife and two sons looking on eight thousand miles away. Very sad. That sorrow translated into grieving words spoken by one of my characters. You have to feel it and see it, to know it.
Some might write their way through a difficult experience as a memoir. Why did you choose historical fiction?
Upon my return to the states, like thousands of other Vets, I was plagued with anxiety, anger, sleeplessness, and a constant nagging that I should be back taking care of unfinished business. That bowl of worms was not working for me. To avoid becoming dependent on a temporary solution, God turned a light on for me at three o’clock in the morning back in 2009. I started writing an imaginative story using the U.S. Civil War as a backdrop. I created characters that would help me tell my own story. What an amazing journey it has been for me as an author. I discovered a transference of unwanted feelings onto paper was the safest way for me to decompress. It is easier to erase a sentence you don’t mean than to take back a spoken, hurtful word. I left those unwanted feelings between the four corners of my book, Mine Eyes …
What were the benefits/challenges of writing about war as historical fiction?
Writing historic-fiction enabled me to make a personal movie without having to ask mom, “Is it okay to do such and such.” My book provided a safe harbor for me to write using honest emotions. The biggest challenge I had was making sure the information I found about a person, place, or event in 1861 through 1865 could realistically be integrated into my story lines. For example. I used census data to determine if a character was alive before and after the war. The challenges of writing about a past war also considers the reasonable inclusion of accurate dates, notable personalities, realistic environmental information such as day or night, and of course the context surrounding a particular battle, political, economic, or cultural. What is not real are the conversations my characters have and not since Mr. Ed has a horse talked.
Through my research, I quickly identified a bias problem with other U.S. Civil War genre authors. Biases were also noted in actual battlefield reports stored in the Congressional Archives. I recognized that I had my own biases being from Texas – I wanted a Confederate character to win. However, as a professional researcher, I knew to periodically cross-check my own biases. Which is why I included in my Mine Eyes… a narrative that takes my characters to Andersonville. The North and South were not free of war atrocities. Some history books conveniently leave that information out.
How did writing this novel help you as a veteran come to grips with your own war experiences?
I was able to do self-reflection on what I wrote in my manuscript on day one three years ago and compare that prose to how I feel today. There was a significant change. I let go of much of the anger. I understand why war is bad. We should never go to war. My father was right. He was a WWII Navy veteran. When I made a comment about wanting to go to Vietnam back in the early ‘70s, he responded, “Son, you have no idea what you are talking about. Nobody wants war.”
What do you hope readers will take away from reading your novel?
I hope readers remember that our country evolved from normal people doing extraordinary things during times of great sacrifice. Horses were a key part of that history during the course of many wars and conflicts America fought. For example, in the U.S Civil War, there are unofficial estimates that over two million horses were killed during that war.
I would also say, that we as a country must never forget why we have such freedoms. I only chose a few Civil War battles to bring selected acts of courage and heroism to the reader’s attention. My fellow vets will appreciate this approach knowing they can do the same to redefine their lives through the word. For young readers, history should not be boring. I chose to write a historic-fiction that would entertain the reader while teaching them about certain U.S. Civil War battle dates, personalities, and outcomes.
What else would you like to share?
Most importantly, I want thank you Carol! I appreciate you inviting me to participate in this interview. You are very professional and considerate. Thank you. Perhaps one Vet out there, through your Blog, will read this and be inspired to write his/her story – to simply transfer ownership of their feelings to paper. It worked for me. I also want to recognize the superb efforts of my publisher Tate Publishing. My book’s project manager Ms. Lauren Perkins, Editor, Ms. Lillian Vistal, and Mr. James Branscum who tirelessly works getting my book out there for the world to read.
We’re honored to have you with us today, Clint. Thank you for the interview. Thank you for writing the book. Most of all, thank you for your service to our country.
Readers, if you know a veteran, I ask that you pass this blog along to him or her. Veternas would benefit from hearing how writing has worked for Clint. Thanks.
CDR Goodwin served over thirty years in the United States Navy in both active and reserve assignments. While on active duty, he served onboard the destroyers USS John Paul Jones, DDG-32, USS O’Brien, DD-975 and shore command Fleet Anti-submarine Warfare Training Center Pacific. While on shore duty, CDR Goodwin completed his education requirements for his Bachelor of Science degree in September of 1986. He graduated with honors (Magna Cum Laude) from National University San Diego in January of 1987.
In October 1986, CDR Goodwin affiliated with the Naval Reserve. From January 1990 to October 2008, CDR Goodwin held several leadership positions supporting different services and agencies in combat and non-combat roles as a Division Officer, Department Head, and Senior Officer-in-Charge. In 2004, he was assigned to the Joint Military Intelligence College, Post Graduate Intelligence Program as a faculty member. In 2006, Mr. Goodwin was ordered to Iraq where he served as the Multi-National Corps-Iraq, Chief, Target Development Cell. He was honored to have served with many honorable men and women willing to pay the ultimate sacrifice to promote freedom and democracy.”