While Mike Guardia is busy wrapping up his second book with Casemate, SHADOW COMMANDER: The Epic Story of Donald D. Blackburn—Guerrilla Leader and Special Forces Hero, he took some time out to talk with us about his new book and answer some of our questions about himself.
Mike told us that this new book is in many ways a “companion piece” to AMERICAN GUERRILLA (Casemate, 2010). It chronicles the life of Brigadier General Donald Blackburn. After fighting alongside Volckmann in the Philippines, Blackburn went on to play a pivotal role in initiating Special Forces Operations in Vietnam. As the commander of the 77th Special Forces Group, and later as the commander of MACV-SOG, Blackburn set the contours for how Army Special Forces would be employed in Vietnam. His career culminated as the architect of the Son Tay Prison Raid.
Here’s more from our “interview”:
When did you first realize that you wanted to become a writer?
I can’t remember exactly when I decided to become a writer, but from a very early age, I discovered that writing was something I excelled at. In school, my strongest subjects were History and English…two areas which definitely fed my passion for writing! I knew that I wanted to write a book(s) at some point in my life, but I wanted to find a story that was unique, compelling, and relatively unknown. When I discovered the story of Russell Volckmann, I knew I had found my starting point!
What is it about writing that appealed to you?
I think there’s an intangible reward that comes with being an author.
It’s hard to describe, but there’s an amazing sense of satisfaction that I get whenever I build words into a narrative that any potential reader can enjoy. I know that not everyone who reads my book may enjoy it, but if only one person can say that they learned something from the story, it makes it all worthwhile.
Do you have any advice for budding military history authors wanting to get published?
Absolutely! Always maintain a positive outlook and stay passionate about what you do. Also, don’t be afraid to seek advice from those in and around the publishing industry. There are countless venues (e.g. writer’s conferences, workshops, Literary Marketplace, etc.) organized by people who have been in the industry for years and who earnestly want to help young authors who are just starting out. Of course, there are a few “hucksters” in the mix, so seek advice from multiple sources and do as much “homework” as you can.
How much research did you do for the book? Can you give us some tips on this?
I certainly did A LOT of research! I have a Master’s Degree in History, so my academic background prepared me very well for this. In the Introduction to AMERICAN GUERRILLA , I discuss much the research I did for my first book.
For any historical topic, the National Archives (College Park, MD) is the best place to start. I made two trips to the Archives during the course of my research. They have, literally, millions of resources available to you on any topic you can imagine. Also, every branch of the U.S. Military has their own archives and/or Historical Center. The U.S. Army Military History Institute (Carlisle Barracks, PA) and the U.S. Army Center for Military History (Washington, DC) were instrumental in providing material for my book. The Special Operations Archives at Fort Bragg, NC were also very helpful.
If the opportunity presents itself, I would definitely recommend finding and interviewing veterans (and/or family members) of whatever conflict you are writing about. Doing so gave me the opportunity to add a very personal and intimate dimension to my work that, otherwise, I would not have had.
In addition to being an an Armor Officer in the United States Army, he holds a BA and MA in American History from the University of Houston. He is currently stationed at Fort Bliss, TX.