By Jacob Mathias
A new young-adult novel, “STAY!” by D.K. Wells, was recently published by the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point’s Cornerstone Press and both are ecstatic about the result.
“STAY!” tells the story of a German shepherd named Ike, a service dog in the Vietnam War. Wells, whose family once owned German shepherds, has held a long interest in the war dogs of Vietnam. Prior to the war, canines volunteered to serve by their families were returned to the U.S. once the conflict was over, but during the Vietnam War the dogs were instead declared surplus equipment and usually left behind.
The book asks the question: Will Ike come home?
“Nobody knew they were going to just be abandoned over there,” said Wells. “At that time there were about 4,000 war dogs sent to Vietnam and less than 200 of them made it out.”
She said the vast majority of documented dogs were sent to other bases, and she’s heard stories of soldiers smuggling their dogs out of Vietnam in their duffel bags to save them from being abandoned. Through her research she’d learned the dogs saved an estimated 10,000 lives while in service during the war.
“We can’t let this story die,” said Wells.
The new book is from the point of view of the dog Ike, his companion soldier Ray Merriweather and a female military journalist named Jesse.
Wells said she chose to tell the story as a fictional narrative because a number of other non-fiction works have been written about the war dogs.
The idea for the book began about 15 years ago but Wells said life soon got in the way. She moved here from Virginia with her husband when he was offered a job at Sentry Insurance. She is now an adjunct professor of communication at Northcentral Technical College in Wausau.
After moving to Wisconsin, Wells said it took “five or six years” to actually write the book.
Wells submitted her manuscript to an editing and publishing class at UWSP, which over the course of a semester selects, edits, designs and publishes a book through their in-house Cornerstone Press. She submitted the book on a whim, thinking she didn’t quite meet their publishing criteria but said her expectations have been far exceeded since being selected for publication by the class.
The class runs itself like a publishing house and is treated very much like a business.
“Selecting a manuscript from over 30 submissions, and then taking that through the entire editing and publishing process in such a short period of time, is a herculean task, and yet the students not only pulled it off but created a beautiful book in the process,” said Dr. Dan Dieterich, professor of the class.
Wells said she couldn’t believe the quality of the work the students did.
“You talk about a phenomenal group of people,” said Wells. “I’ve always loved the process, never like this. This has been absolutely phenomenal.”
Members of the class said they loved Wells’ story but that it was also a hard choice as they had three good manuscripts they were considering, including a children’s book about turtles and a novel about college professor who taught at a prison.
“The Vietnam War is a big subject for such a young group, that we thought it was kind of important to get that word out,” said Dani McCarthy, a senior at UWSP who served as production director for the class.
While Wells was very impressed with the class’s treatment of her book, the class itself was surprised at how well they worked together especially after hearing stories from friends who taken the class. It’s often a challenge for so many of the students to come together on one project of such a grand scale.
“It just went off without a hitch. Everything was great,” said UWSP senior Noël Herman, president of the class. “Because everybody wants to be here, you get a different level of participation than you normally would.”
Prior to “STAY!,” Wells has written a number of children’s books and non-fiction works about public safety. Her next book may be a sequel to “STAY!” from the point of view of the journalist, Jesse. She also has an idea for a book about parenting.
“STAY!” by D.K. Wells can be purchased at the UWSP Bookstore, Book World in downtown Stevens Point and at the Riverfront Arts Center. You can also order a copy online from the Cornerstone Press website.