Page One: Where did you grow up and
was reading and writing a part of your life? Who were your earliest
influences and why?
Dennis: Because of a fierce Christmas
Eve snowstorm, my parents were unable to leave our rural, northern
Michigan home and travel to the hospital. So I was born at home.
I don't think either reading or writing was a part of my life
until I met Mr. Elizabeth Parker, in my senior year in high school.
Mrs. Parker convinced me that I could write and suggested that
the best way to be a better writer was to read all kinds of books.
My father encouraged me to get as much education as possible.
He lived long enough to see me earn a master's degree.
Page One: Why did you write The Autumn
Dennis: The Autumn Marine is an
autobiographical novel. I wrote it to help my children understand
what I experienced as a Marine in Vietnam. It turns out to be
a love story, a seminar in leadership, and a means of understanding
what happened to the youth of America during the Vietnam War.
Page One: Tell us about The Autumn
Dennis: Steve Cannon is the main
character in The Autumn Marine. Steve struggles with his daunting
responsibilities as a squad leader during the siege in Khe Sanh,
a northern outpost in Vietnam. Feeling unique among Marines as
he struggles with his feelings, unable to share them with anyone
else in Vietnam.
In letters he tells his family what is happening and how he is
feeling. He has to do that without increasing the anxiety of
his concerned mother. He also has a friend named Autumn, who
he realizes he loves. He tried to make her understand why he
is in the Marines and what he is doing in Vietnam. Steve reflects
on his boot camp and combat training to help him be a good leader.
Page One: At book signings, what
do readers say to you about their interpretations of The Autumn
Dennis: Sue Fay wrote, "You
have long been a favorite author of mine. I'm so excited to get
a copy of your latest book. You have great talent and I'm one
of your greatest fans. Extremely interesting book, especially
for those of us who know nothing about the Marine Corps other
than they're very disciplined and look very sharp in their uniforms.
Because I had to keep referring to the back of the book to your
explanations, it took me awhile. It was all uncharted territory
to me and fascinating."
Scott Winston wrote, "What an awesome,
thoughtful, and inspirational book."
Page One: What is your perspective
of September 11, 2001?
Dennis: The following is an article
I wrote for the Rescue Forum, the journal of the Mountain Rescue
Association following a color guard presentation at Madison Square
Garden on February 11, 2002:
On February 11, 2002, five months after the World
Trade Center disaster, a ragged wind blasted the choppy water
at the confluence of the Hudson and East Rivers. As I rounded
the buildings near the southwest corner at Ground Zero I could
see Lady Liberty standing amid the foaming combers below Manhattan.
Proudly she thrust her torch skyward as she maintained silent
vigil over the ravaged cityscape of New York. Long offering hope
to American immigrants, Lady Liberty now stands as a symbol of
the resolve of New Yorkers to rebuild their city and an enduring
emblem of American strength and unity.
Much of the debris from the collapsed Trade Center
has been removed, hauled to a disposal site across the river
in New Jersey. What remains is a huge crater excavated by construction
workers to remove the wreckage of subway tunnels in the search
for the final victims of the disaster.
Ground Zero is mostly surrounded by barriers that bar entrance
to the site. All access points are guarded by members of the
New York Police Department. The entrance through which I gained
access was directly west of the site. Near the final checkpoint
to the work site I found three New York City firefighters taking
a short breather from their labors. Two of them were in their
mid-twenties and the third, Captain Bill Butler, well beyond
middle age. With red faces, noses, and ears the younger firefighters
looked tired but resolved to do their jobs, determination steely
in their eyes. The captain seemed weary beyond his years and
his eyes were red and watery. Instead of pike poles, fire axes,
or hoses, all three men carried three-pronged rakes. The once-keen
rake edges were battered and scarred from of being continually
dragged through debris by the men as they looked for victims.
All three firefighters were off-duty, Butler said. After pausing
for a moment in a vain attempt to control his emotions, he told
me they were looking for his missing son. "Please say a
prayer for Tom," Captain Butler implored. "He was a
good man." On September 11, 2001, his firefighter son had
responded to the World Trade Center disaster, and had been among
those selfless many who had gone
up the stairs to help rather than down to safety. The agony of
the past five months was etched in the fatigued face of a grieving
A small overlook has been constructed there. Along two sides
are photos, flowers, candles, department patches, and memories.
It is a miniature shrine built in honor of those who died, those
who lived, and those who are continuing the search. It is a quiet
place, almost peaceful. The other two sides face the devasted
site. A scant hundred feet from the overlook, the edge of the
man-made crater drops six stories to the shadowed bottom. There,
in the bowels of the earth, an ant-like army of workers continues
the recovery process. The chilly wind numbed my body but the
reality of being at Ground Zero warmed my blood, for here I felt
the presence of those brave men and women who had responded without
hesitation because their fellow men and women needed help. To
stand at the recovery site, where so many innocent people had
died, sent shivers up my spine. Tears were uncontrollable.
Near the overlook, on a short pole, two flags snapped in the
breeze. On the bottom of the staff was a World Trade Center disaster
flag. Above it flew the Stars and Stripes, the renewed symbol
of a truly United States of America. Almost like the prayer flags
in Tibet, Old Glory carried skyward the prayers of all people
of conscience. Beyond the two flags, on the side of a severely
damaged building, hangs a huge American flag. It is secured with
cables to the building, and hangs down as the patriotic backdrop
for those recovery workers still laboring in the shadows deep
in New York City's canyons. Amid the wreckage of destroyed buildings
those flags reflect a living, unified country. Terrorist attacks
can change the shape of a city but the strength of America is
impervious to their efforts.
An hour later I left the site, finishing my circumnavigation
of Ground Zero. Shuffling along sidewalks and across muddy streets
I could see many American flags; some on cars, others on buildings,
buses, and construction vehicles. Many were affixed to uniforms
of peace officers and firefighters. All of them reminded me that
I am proud to have served my country as a Marine during the Vietnam
war. I continue that service as a member of the Utah Sheriff¹s
Search and Rescue team and the Mountain Rescue Association. If
I were twenty years old again, on September 12, 2001 I would
have been standing at the entrance to the Marine recruiters office.
God bless America.
Page One: What general advice do
you have for writers who just completed their first book? What
do they do now?
Dennis:Find a good editor and
listen to the advice given. Then edit and revise as needed. Find
a good on-demand publisher and be prepared to publicize your
Page One: Tell me about your publishing
experience -- You published independently with iUniverse. Is
it a difficult process to publish on your own?
Dennis:I chose iUniverse as my
on-demand publisher. They are easy to work with and have easy-to-follow
guidelines for submitting a manuscript. They are also reasonably
priced. Following completion of printing I can get orders filled
in 7-10 days and they usually pay the shipping.
Page One: Are you working on a follow
up? Or something totally different?
Dennis:Right now I am only writing
journal articles. In addition to teaching elementary school full-time,
I am attending the Law Enforcement Academy at a nearby university
and working on the weekends for the Utah County Sheriff's Department.
I won't have time for more writing until next fall.
Page One: What was the last book
Dennis:My last book read was "New
York, September 11" by Magnum Photographers.
Page One: You say, 'I needed an opportunity
to help our three sons learn the lessons I learned as a boy in
my scout troop in Michigan...' What are these lessons and are
they differrent than one would learn from their experiences in
the Marine Corps??
Dennis:As a scout I learned about
service; taking the opportunity to do things for other people,
especially if they don't know about it. The Scout Oath and Scout
Law are a way of life, not merely a collection of words. Our
country is good but needs ordinary people to make it great. Scouting
taught me about patriotism and the responsibility we each have
to make our country a better place than we found it. The Marine
Corps taught me to take care of each other. The Corps provided
a means to repay a small portion of the debt I owe to America,
for I have been blessed far beyond what I deserve.
Page One: You've been a member of
the Utah County Sheriff's Search and Rescue team for the past
nine years --- Tell us about this experience. Sounds like you
have another book there?
Dennis: With Utahns on Everest,
1992, I trained four years to scale the world's tallest summit.
Our climbs took us to Denali, Pico de Orizaba in Mexico, Mt.
Rainier, and many peaks in Utah. Ultimately, I was unable to
climb Mt. Everest, so I used the mountaineering experience and
equipment I had obtained to work with the Utah County Sheriff's
Search and Rescue team. I have been involved with climbing accidents,
avalanches, swift water rescue, open water dives, aircraft crashes,
searches for lost hikers, climbers, boaters, hunters, snowmobilers,
and horseback riders. I have helped do evidence searches, community
evacuations due to wild fires, cave rescues, and ice rescues.
Sadly, I have all too often, been involved
in body recoveries. In nine year I have donated hundreds of hours
and many thousands of dollars to the people of Utah County. It
is another small way in which I can give back to a community
and country that has so generously given opportunities to me.