Tom Glenn’s newest novel, The Trion Syndrome is slated for publication November 2015. Tom has worked as an intelligence operative, a musician, a linguist (seven languages), a cryptologist, a government executive, a care-giver for the dying, a leadership coach, and, always, a writer.
Many of his prize-winning short stories (sixteen in print) came from the better part of thirteen years he shuttled between the U.S. and Vietnam as an undercover NSA employee. His writing is haunted by his five years of work with AIDS patients, two years of helping the homeless, seven years of caring for the dying in the hospice system, and Post-Traumatic Stress Injury, a consequence of his time in Vietnam. These days he is a reviewer for The Washington Independent Review of Books where he specializes in books on war and Vietnam. His Vietnam novel-in-stories, Friendly Casualties, is now available on Amazon.com. Apprentice House of Baltimore brought out his novel, No-Accounts in 2014.
Jan: Previously you have written about your experiences in Vietnam during the fall of Saigon and about your hospice work helping AIDS patients in the early years of the AIDS crisis. Tell us about your newest novel, The Trion Syndrome. What do you hope will draw readers into this novel?
Tom: I am fascinated by the image of a strong, passionate, and gifted man brought to his knees by his own past, and I’m hoping readers will be drawn to his story. I want to lead readers into the world of Post-Traumatic Stress Injury (PTSI) so they can understand and be moved by the plight of a man unable to face his own combat memories.
Jan: What do readers need to know about The Trion Syndrome and its connections to Greek mythology?
Tom: When my protagonist’s story took me over, I searched Greek mythology for an apt metaphor for his struggle. I found none, so I invented a myth about a demigod named Trion, the son of Ares (the god of war), who disembowels his own infant son to prove his ferocity. The gods are appalled and curse him with the inability to love or be loved. That tale caught for me the dilemma of a man who has participated in the gruesomeness of armed combat and comes away afraid that he’s destroyed his own capacity for love. That was my story. I worked undercover providing signals intelligence support to army and Marine combat units on and off for thirteen years in Vietnam, then lived through the fall of Saigon escaping under fire after the North Vietnamese were already in the streets of the city. I witnessed and took part in acts so brutal—such is the nature of men fighting each other to the death—that I doubted I was even capable of love.
Jan: You have mentioned the wisdom and power of Greek mythology to bring about healing. How is it redemptive for you personally, and in this particular novel?
Tom: When I returned from Vietnam in May 1975 after the fall of Saigon, I was an emotional wreck. My marriage crumbled, and I was afraid I would lose my children, my reason for staying alive. I held top-secret-codeword-plus clearances and couldn’t seek psychiatric help—I would have lost my job. Through writing I was able to confront my unspeakable memories, but to find peace I volunteered to help others less fortunate than me and turned to my language studies, especially German, for solace. Then I remembered the quiet wisdom in Greek mythology. I reread Robert Graves’ The Greek Myths in the complete two-volume version. As I pondered each of the wonderful stories, the gentle insights embedded in each slowly came into my consciousness. I saw the unsentimental lessons inherent in the stories and found metaphors for my own life.
The story of Dave, my protagonist in Trion, is in many ways my own story. He is all but destroyed by a past he has quarantined from his consciousness. For reasons he himself doesn’t understand, he’s drawn to the myth of Trion, the child killer, and sees himself. At his lowest point, he remembers what happened: he killed a child in Vietnam. When another child, his illegitimate son he tried to kill, through abortion, finds him, Dave learns that Trion’s fate, drowning, is not the only way out. Dave is not Trion redux unless he chooses to be. He realizes that Trion’s choices are the lesson of the myth—he could have saved himself but didn’t. Dave’s son leads him to understand the myth at last and shows him the way home.
Jan: The protagonist Dave Bell of Trion discovers a connection between his life and an unpublished novella by German author, Thomas Mann. Does this unpublished novella exist or is it a necessary fictional literary device to propel plot?
Tom: The novella, like the Trion myth, is fictional. I needed to have another angle on the Trion tale. Mann is one of my favorite authors, and he frequently used myths as the basis for his stories. I drew on his greatest work, Doctor Faustus, to select the lessons I wanted the Trion novella to demonstrate and incorporated them. I deliberately changed the Trion story, in the Mann version, to include Trion’s suicide by drowning. That suggested to Dave what he should do.
Jan: Once again you explore the power of repressed PTSI and the emotional wreckage of so many lives from wars and clandestine intelligence operations. Why do you think it has taken so long for our government to acknowledge the damage?
Tom: Our American culture stresses masculine virtues—courage, strength, self-reliance. We look askance at anything that resembles softness or vulnerability in men, and we deemphasize nurturing and gentleness as masculine traits. Besides, a segment of our population considers psychology as suspect at best. And even today in many military circles, PTSI is dismissed as a cover for cowardice. All that’s changing, but change takes time. And while we wait, the victims suffer in silence. I’m doing all I can to speed up the change. That’s why I painted my protagonist as a brave virile man undone by his repressed memories. PTSI is not cowardice. It takes strength and courage to face the past and comes to terms with it.
Jan: You worked for many years as a US Intelligence Operative for NSA. Are there still limitations on what you are free to say about that work?
Tom: Yes. Most of what I did in my career is still classified. I had to personally request declassification of my work in Vietnam. And I was only partially successful. Everything after Vietnam cannot be discussed publicly.
Jan: How long have you worked on Trion? When did you experience a breakthrough, an insight as to how you would end it, or did you always know the ending?
Tom: As with most of my books, I spent about fifteen years writing Trion. The story had been kicking around in my head ever since I came back from Vietnam in 1975, but it took time for all the pieces to fall into place. I didn’t know the ending until I wrote it after finishing the rest of the manuscript. But that’s standard practice for me. What I have to do is use something like meditation techniques to unleash my subconscious mind. It’s like watching a movie and writing down what I see. That’s why I make no attempt to write an outline for a novel until I’ve finished the first draft. Then I look at the outline and spot weaknesses, dull spots, and inconsistencies. In short, I rely on something deep inside me to tell the story. For example, I make no pretense that I understand women; they continually surprise and mystify me at the conscious level. But a large part of Trion is written from the point of view of Mary, Dave’s wife. Women who have read the book tell me I got it right. So some part of my subconscious is able to get into a woman’s head and write from her point of view. I have no idea how I do it.
Jan: What are your particular satisfactions on seeing Trion published at this point in your life?
Tom: Two real satisfactions. First, I’m proud to have finally mastered the craft of writing fiction to the point that I turn out finished story telling. I’ve spent my life learning how to do it, and I’m still learning. Second, and more important, I yearned to bring to readers the story of a man spiritually crippled by combat and show how he managed to survive. I want people to know and understand how our past can lacerate us. When I came back from my many trips to Vietnam, I and the troops I was travelling with were jeered and spat upon. Even now I ache to hear the words, “Thank you. And welcome home.” Maybe my readers will cry a little with me and say those words to Dave, and therefore to me.
Previously I interviewed Tom Glenn about his book, No Accounts on my website as Entry # 220 in July 2014. Here is the link:
To find out more Tom Glenn’s web sites are: