Awards Judge: Hotel Constellation A ‘Fascinating Memoir’

Writer’s Digest informed me that my Viet-Nam era memoir, Hotel Constellation: America’s Secret War in Laos, missed the top prize for memoirs in its 2018 self-published book awards.

But it did give me a heckuva good writeup as a consolation prize. The judge called it “a fascinating memoir written by a seasoned writer.

Hotel Constellation got a 5 — the highest rating on a scale of 0-5 — on five of the six criteria judged. It stumbled on “Plot and Story Appeal,” which I grant is a really important factor. It rated a 4 out of 5.

Here is what a judge of the 25th Annual Writer’s Digest Self-Published Book Awards wrote: (This is the complete review, unedited except to correct the spelling of the name, Branfman.)

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Hotel Constellation opens with a good self-description of a stubborn young man absolutely bent on going to Vietnam, obsessed with entering the country and studying for a year at the Buddhist University in Saigon. He arrives in September of 1970. The level of danger involved in his enterprise, for which he has prepared for an entire year, can be seen in his father’s taking out a $5,000 life insurance policy on his own son. Mr. Haase Sr. knew he would not be able to afford to ship his son’s cadaver back should anything go wrong. Wrong, in fact, was how things went from the first moment Haase disembarked from the plane. He ended up being shipped off to Bangkok, from which place he worked on finding a way back in to Vietnam. I really felt for the author’s frustrations in Laos. The story about Branfman forced departure from Laos is interesting, especially when the reader considers it might have been engineered by the U.S. Embassy. The author explains a great deal about the Meo people. He also shows that he had a most original life in Laos. It is ironic, however, that he felt things were happening everywhere except where he was. I like the pictures: they bring a nitty gritty ethos to the memoir, none more convincingly than the shot of the author interviewing Jane Fonda on the tarmac of Wattay Airport in July of 1972. I liked the reasons the narrator gives for his going to Vietnam—to prove to his father that he was “not a coward, not afraid to face war just because [he] opposed this one” (251). This is a fascinating memoir written by a seasoned writer who shows that our ideals at 20 influence choices that impact us for a lifetime and may, as in the case of Haase, give us rare perspective.

Thanks to Writers Digest and congratulations to all of the self-published winners.


Hotel Constellation is available in ebook and paperback formats.

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Inquiring Minds (Pilatus Porter) – Mark of the Spider

Pilatus Porter.

Nope. Not the prefect of Judea from the New Testament.

It’s an airplane. One I’ve actually flown in, and one that nature photographer Sebastian Arnett ventures forth in my new book, The Mark of the Spider.

I flew in the Porter back during the Viet-Nam War. Back then, it was a favorite short takeoff and landing (STOL) aircraft for the CIA throughout Indochina — as was the snub-nosed Helio Courier.

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Pilatus Porter in Laos, ca. 1970. Photo: Dr. B.R. Lang, Wikimedia Commons.

In Laos, where I spent most of my time in Southeast Asia, the Porter’s missions included “paradropping supplies to troops, passenger transport, psy ops, reconnaissance, prisoner conveyance, airborne radio relay, and other intelligence operations.”

The Porter has a wide wingspan compared to the length of its fuselage (52 feet vs. 36 feet), a distinctive long nose, and a powerful reversible engine that allowed it to land in three airplane lengths (about 110 feet), or two-thirds of the width of a football field. Takeoff required slightly more.

It was quite uncomfortable to fly in as a back seat passenger, quite exciting and far too much like flying in nothing at all, as in there’s nothing under me — or free fall.

And, as Sebastian discovered in The Mark of the Spider, the plane could glide long distances without its engine on.


You can read all about Sebastian’s adventures in trade press print and ebook formats, only from Amazon.

Antioch Magazine Spotlights My Laos Memoir

The Antioch College Alumni Magazine just came out with a very nice write-up about my memoir, HOTEL CONSTELLATION: Notes from America’s Secret War in Laos.

The one-page spread includes three photos of mine and that picture of me interviewing Jane Fonda waaaaay back in 1972.

About 40,000 Antioch alumni, including this Class of ’73 grad, received copies of the four-color 58-page magazine. It’s part of the effort to rebuild the mother campus in Yellow Springs, Ohio, after the school had to shut down for lack of funding. (Yeah, colleges do close.)

I’m grateful to writer Michelle Marie Wallace, who listened to me ramble about my experiences, and to Carol Krumbach, who commissioned the piece.