Lawrence Hill edition (USA, 1984)

Avon paper edition (USA, 1986)

Angus & Robertson edition (Australia & the UK, 1985)

photo of my father and me on back of the Angus & Robertson edition

iUniverse edition under the Author's Guild back-in-print imprint (2000)

My father is on the right, his friend Andor "Andy" Landeren is on the left

my father at home after the war

The Hotel Tacloban

I began The Hotel Tacloban in 1981. I was living in Manchester, New Hampshire and my father was in New York recovering from his second open heart surgery. He called from Briarcliff and asked if I still wanted to be a writer, which had been my ambition for many years. I said "Yes," and he said, "Come on home. I've got a story to tell you."

We hadn't spoken much in the past ten years. We'd grown estranged. But I cared for him and was curious to hear what he had to say. So I drove down.

I sat on the floor of my parent's apartment while he sat on the couch. He was very emotional and said that he'd had a hard time in the Intensive Care room after surgery. He'd been having terrible nightmares and was disturbing the other patients to the point that the hospital moved him into a private room. A psychiatrist was sent to visit him and after several sessions, in the hospital and afterwards as a out-patient, the psychiatrist told my father that if he ever wanted to get better, he would have to tell what happened to him in the war - in combat as a POW.

That's how people deal with PTSD. They talk about it.

It was a tremendous breakthrough for me as a writer, and as a father and son forming a bond. As he told me the story of what happened to him in New Guinea and later in the Philippines in the prisoner of war camp called The Hotel Tacloban, we realized that neither of us was responsible for our being estranged: the war, and in particular the people who wage war, were responsible. That's what The Hotel Tacloban is about.

Letter from Elmer Voss regarding the liberation of the prison camp in Tacloban on 20 October 1944.
Writing a book about deeply personal things has benefits and, as we soon found out, risks. Military historians in Australia denounced the book as fiction and said the POW camp never existed. We presented evidence, including the letter to the left from Elmer Voss, a medic with the 1st Cav who took my father out of the hospital in an ambulance. But incredible pressure was brought to bear and Voss's sergeant actually called him and told him to change his story, that the liberation of the camp was a secret they had to carry to their graves. We soon discovered that the military has legions of followers who not only believe everything it says, but will gladly attack anyone who challenges the official story.

Movie Business
Other strange things happened. The Kennedy-Miller film company, makers of Mad Max and the Road Warrior films with Mel Gibson, bought the film rights to The Hotel Tacloban. It's that compelling of a story. But then Kennedy-Miller buried it. They've sat on it for over 25 years. Various persons have been interested in buying the rights from them over the years, but for some reason they end up vanishing down the rabbit hole. In any event, if anyone is interested in making the book into a movie, let me know and I'll pas you along to the Keepers of the Keys...

Letter from Ft. Hood curator Rudeford Norman confirming the existence of the prison camp
The initial reviews were great. Critic Paul Bach called it "A soldier's fascinating story of wartime survival and betrayal...a shocking denouement." James Kaufman at the LA Times called it "A very true book and a story well told, chilling in its accumulation." As I mentioned, there has been steady interest in Hollywood. But the powers that be, in industry and government, can kill any book, especially one that reveals their crimes. The closest I ever got to official confirmation was the letter to left from the curator at Ft. Hood, Rudeford Norman. But as my father and I learned the hard way, the only truth is official truth, even when the official truth is a Big Lie.

In the 26 September 1984 Christian Science Monitor, reviewer Thomas D’Evelyn said, "After the dust settles, The Hotel Tacloban will be there, bearing witness to man’s inhumanity to man, to the impotence of pain, and to the durability of the love of father and son. It sheds light on these dark times. Read it.”

That is the true meaning of The Hotel Tacloban. But the military and it's lackeys in the media had their fun, waving the flag. One edition of the Hill hard cover, one of the Angus & Roberston hard cover, and one of the Avon paperback were all that were ever printed. The book was relegated into noble anonymity until 2000, when the Authors Guild started it's "back in print" series at iUniverse, and offered The Hotel Tacloban new life. But on-demand publishers offer no promotion, which is what brings books to peoples' attention, and Amazon reviewers have almost uniformly followed the official line. Although I love the book more than any of the others I've written, it has been an arrow in my heart for 30 years. Such is a writer's fate: the magic of telling a great story, and reconciling with an estranged parent in the process, is never quite powerful enough to slay the dragon.

from Parade Magazine 17 June 2001


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