With refreshing depth, distinct literary merit, and highly original poetic phrasings that spill from the pages like paint, Colorado Mandala is poet Brian Heffron’s debut work of literary fiction. It mines the complex landscape of post-Vietnam America to unearth the deep connections that bind individuals together, and also ferociously rip them asunder. Illustrative, luscious, seductive, and engaging, this rare piece of craftsmanship will stir the senses of any one who thirsts for artistic expression, or who longs for an era in our country now utterly, irretrievably gone.
In the heady, hippie backdrop of Pike’s Peak, Colorado, in the tumultuous 1970s, three souls swirl together in an explosive supernova. Michael is the flinty-eyed, volatile former Green Beret, whose tour in Vietnam has left unbridgeable chasms in his psyche and secrets that can never find light. Sarah is his fair-haired paramour, the ethereal Earth Mother widow of a fallen soldier and single mother to a ten-year-old son Stuart. Paul is a young wanderer, who is drawn in by Michael and soon bears the mantle of both minister and scourge. As they are drawn together, and torn apart, each is changed forever. And our hearts race along with them, through the rocky, raw Colorado terrain amidst the blood sport of man and beast.
Laying bare the loss and acceptance of a pioneering age, Colorado Mandala shines revelatory light on the crazy, glorious, and romantic notion that each generation conceives anew: that love can be a spiritual gift shared openly rather than coveted, or hidden, or hoarded. If you wish to go barefoot again and climb an unspoiled Colorado trail, look no further. If you long for something to wake you up in simple, clean language, a shimmering story awaits. Awaken to what you have always known: simple truths show you the way home. With his gripping and unforgettable Colorado Mandala, it is clear that Brian Heffron knows the way. Simply follow his trail.
Brian Francis Heffron answers questions
· What is your book about?
Colorado Mandala is the story of three people, Michael, Sarah and Paul, who in the seventies love and support each other. Michael is a former Green Beret who has returned from Viet Nam having experienced horrible and vivid sights that have done permanent damage. He loves Sarah but knows he can never make her happy so he encourages Paul to step in and take his place: A strange idea, and one that he is compelled to simultaneously both pursue and try to stop. The book is a romantic adventure set inside a wild and free country and era that is now gone forever.
· What inspired you to write this particular story (and/or series)?
I was in the writing program at Emerson college in the seventies and my own experiences at that time of meeting and interviewing returning Veterans led me to want to portray them, and honor their courage and suffering. There was a great divide at that time between the young and old over the war and civil rights and this division was called the “generation gap”. It was a period of both social turmoil and social growth. The soldier and the hippie were also often at odds, but had a mutual love for our country even though they were on different sides of the question of America’s participation in the Viet Nam war. Since Michael was a soldier and Paul was a hippie I wanted to show that these two groups could also meet and form a deep and abiding friendship.
· Describe your writing in three words.
Descriptive, inspirational and romantic.
· Do you have specific techniques you use to develop the plot and stay on track?
Writing for me is done in my subconscious. I plant an idea down there in the dark and let it stew below the conscious level until a plan emerges. Then I start to write. By that time I have a general idea of where I am going but spontaneity plays a dynamic role in what actually happens on the page. It is like weaving. Pulling together threads of plot and people until a garment begins to become recognizable as a tale. My characters are portrayed as well as I possibly can do it and then they inform the reader by what they do and say. I let the characters tell the story. The place is also key as the setting should be like another character in the book supporting the plot with visuals that relate to the underlying story. It is all a “who, what, where” type of thing that eventually gels into a solid and intriguing story.
· Are your characters in the book based on anyone you know?
Yes. The characters in Colorado Mandala are all based on real people whom I knew and loved at the time. They lived and breathed and suffered and cared for each other, and I watched them and remembered and tried my hardest to make them come as alive as they were to me at the time. But, oddly, they are also distinct and separate parts of my own psyche and each one represents a side of my own personality.
· Was there any research involved in your work?
Yes, in the seventies I hitchhiked all over America interviewing returning Veterans. Many were defensive and would only communicate with other Veterans, but I always took my time and after getting an introduction to them I would patiently wait to see if they would open up and trust me with their stories. There was no Post Traumatic Stress Disorder diagnosis at that time so people just thought these guys were anti-social or worse. The truth is they had seen too much horror and mayhem and it had made them loners. Now we know they had been damaged and had acquired PTSD in combat but then they were just guys who seemed withdrawn and sad. I too have PTSD so I could relate to them very directly and I think they sensed that. I started to write the book back then and finished it, but then put it aside for 35 years until last spring when I found it and began to revise it. Whatever wisdom I had acquired in the interim, and my knowledge of PTSD as someone who suffers from it went in to the book as it is now.
· What authors inspire or influence your work?
I know he has become a kind of hyper-masculine cliché but the writing of Ernest Hemingway is still the best English prose around. The stark beauty of his descriptions and the fierce insight into humanity that he had never ceases to amaze me. F. Scott Fitzgerald also taught me how to capture a wonderful sense of the power of love and romance and how necessary it was to humanity. So I guess you could say I learned how to write action from Hemingway and romance from Fitzgerald. Whatever is left…came from me.
· Do you need visual media to describe people or places? (Some authors use pics. out of magazines)
No. I have a very visual mind. After college, I supported myself as a director of photography for TV and motion pictures so I learned composition and framing that way. My eyes see everything and pick out the important details and those are the things I bring into my prose. Each chapter of Colorado Mandala begins with a section in italics which is an omnipresent author describing the scene where the chapter takes place then I switch to first person singular as Paul narrates the action of what occurs there. Many of the reviews of the book mention that it is extremely visual and that makes me very happy.
· Favorite snack when writing.
I don’t eat when writing. I am far too absorbed in my own internal creative process to do anything but think and write, think and write, think and write. When I stop I gorge myself and have a beer to relax and come back into the present and real life. Don’t disturb me when I am writing or you will be barked at and sent away.
· Do you have a Muse?
Yes, the world. The Buddhists say: “Sometimes life is so intense I can hardly stand it” and I think that is true for me. I watch, listen and try to order things that occur in front of my eyes. Life is an ongoing story of life love, hate, hunger and striving, and if you watch carefully enough the world will give you everything you need to create a compelling and complete tale.
· Once a character is fully developed do you set them free or do they still dance around your mind?
All my characters are complete people in my mind’s eye before I ever set pen to paper. They are as real as you are in my head and I know exactly what anyone of them would do under any circumstance. They are truly alive for me and all I do is write down what they do. I love their idiosyncrasies; odd ways and even their cruelty because that is what real people are like. There are no angels on earth. We are all flawed beings rowing our way back to our own creation.
· Is the Thesaurus one of your best writing friends?
Yes. I want to use the most perfect word possible under all circumstances and so using a Thesaurus helps guide me to narrow down to the exact right word or phrase to describe something or someone. Reading should be an adventure for the reader so we must keep the lions and tigers of a paragraph moving and that involves using the perfect word for the perfect spot.
· Who gets to read your drafts before they're published?
Since I am a published poet my literary circle is quite wide, far reaching and even international, so I send out drafts to these kind folk and they let me know what is working and what is not, what is needed and what is not and how the thing is progressing generally. This is enormously helpful and I thank them with all my heart and signed first editions J.
· Share with us your biggest hurdles in the writing process?
Writing is easy compared to marketing which is as important if you want to be read by a wide audience. Doing interviews like this one are a writing challenge because I want to seem clever enough to the reader that they feel the desire to go that next step to Amazon and actually buy Colorado Mandala. So I hope you have enjoyed reading the above and that it has given you some sustenance and worth content, enough for you to take that next step and want to share a novel together.
· Share the biggest hurdles in the marketing process.
Knowing how to do it! It is a mystery why some great books sell and other great books do not, but I think marketing is still a “word of mouth” kind of thing so basically you are marketing the book when you have written something that is a compelling and unique tale that people read and then tell others about. Reading one of my books should be a joy that you want to share. The reviews for Colorado Mandala have been incredibly positive and upbeat so I think the book is selling because of that and because I have succeeded in telling a story that anyone can relate to no matter what age or background. Colorado Mandala is a transformative book that opens up an era that is past, but still present in that many of the things that happened in the seventies have resulted in the better parts of our culture today.
· What project(s) are you working on now?
I am working on a Historical Fiction novel about the period of the Irish Rebellion from approximately 1907 to the present. It is the story of a small Irish family and their personal vendetta against the royal family because one of the royal killed the Irish Patriarch when he was a callow youth. It explains why Mountbatten was killed in 1978 and that is something that no one, outside a small group of people know anything about. My ancestors were founders of the Irish Citizen’s Army, which was a labor army formed by James Larkin and which was an integral part of the Easter Rising in Dublin in 1916. It is a family history set against the epic changes that had to happen for the Irish people to throw off the mantle of British oppression.
· Is there anything else you would like to say to your readers?
Please read the reviews of Colorado Mandala and give it a chance. I guarantee you won’t be disappointed. If you want a signed and dedicated first edition please contact me and we can set that up. And thank you for listening.
· Where can readers find you and your book(s) online?
So we can find you everywhere!
After Brian Francis Heffron achieved a bachelor of Fine Arts in Writing from Emerson College, he has navigated across the Atlantic Ocean under sail (and found Gibraltar), was Director of Photography on “The Imported Bridegroom” a tiny Indy film that received a national theatrical release, created a heart-rending poetry blog within the Notes section of his Facebook profile that drew an avid, dedicated, and international audience, and all the while he wrote, produced, and directed hundreds of hours of television programming for KLCS-TV, a PBS Station focused on education.
On Valentine's Day 2010 he published a handmade poetry chapbook that sold out in three weeks! "Sustain Me with Your Breath" then became, and remains, a promotional e-book sensation.
Heffron followed that up with “Something You Could Touch”, a one hour spoken word poetry CD that broke sales records in its category.
Heffron has also won Emmys, Tellys, Aurora, Videographers and the Davis Award, among others plaudits for both writing and television.
Brian Francis Heffron’s debut novel, Colorado Mandala, mines the complex landscape of 1970s post-Vietnam America to chart the love triangle of a former Green Beret, his lover, and a young wanderer. Colorado Mandala straddles the line between literary and young adult fiction, and distills the author's poetic sensibility into a deeply lyrical work of art.