Intern Spotlight

My name is Sydney Evans, and I am currently a senior at the University of Alabama studying English. My interest in publishing came about two years ago when my passion for reading was sparked again. I previously read constantly when I was younger, but in high school and the beginning of college my interest in reading had drastically waned. It was my rediscovery of YA fantasy and beautifully written literary fiction novels that led me from reading only one book in a year to devouring almost one hundred. I had found something that I loved to do, and I began to wonder what having a career in the publishing industry would be like. I knew little to nothing about the logistics of it, but my friend who had previously interned at UA Press encouraged me to apply. She said her time at the Press was valuable in that it helped her decide if a publishing career would be the right choice for her. I am now spending my third semester here as an editorial intern.

My experience at the Press has been very eye opening. My concept of publishing and all that it entailed was quite different from what I have experienced hands-on, and getting the opportunity to discover what it is like day-to-day has been invaluable. As an editorial intern, I have been introduced to the different stages of editing that a book goes through, from copy-editing to proofreading, before it is finalized for print and placed on the shelves. I never realized how many different steps go into working on a single book, and it makes me appreciate every book I read that much more. Although my focus has been in the editing division of the press, I have been exposed to many different departments, such as acquisitions, business, and sales as well. Many people have taken the time to explain what their day-to-day work looks like, and they all have been open to explaining concepts or answering any questions I may have.

After I graduate in May 2019, I hope to move forward and have a career in the publishing industry. I am interested in acquisitions and having the opportunity to meet with authors, help them in the early stages of their book, and to travel. I am passionate about the editing process itself and knowing that I am helping an author to make their book the best it can be. I have enjoyed copyediting as well, and I would gladly take a position copyediting or proofreading for a company. Certain books I have read in my life have shaped me as a person, and knowing that I could play a small role in helping a reader discover a book that would do the same thing for them inspires me to learn how to edit to the best of my abilities. My dream is to one day make it to New York (whenever the funds for living in one of the most expensive cities in America would become available) to work in trade publishing. I would like to work with young adult novels, because they are what inspired me to love reading once again. UA Press has given me great experience and exposure, and it has helped me to realize that this is exactly what I want my future to be like. I would not be nearly as confident or knowledgeable about the publishing world if it wasn’t for my time interning here, and I am so grateful to have had the opportunity and experience.

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Interview with James Coan

For two months in the fall of 1967, James P. Coan’s USMC tank platoon was assigned to defend an isolated U. S. Marine firebase called Cont Thien. Located two miles below the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) dividing North from south Vietnam, Con Thien was the scene of fierce combat for months on end. Time in the Barrel: A Marine’s Account of the Battle for Con Thien offers an authentic firsthand account of the daily nightmare that was Con Thien.

Below is a conversation with the author about his experiences, his decision to write this book, and the meaning behind his title phrase. 

What particular aspect of the Vietnam War is covered in your book?

The siege of Con Thien captured the attention of the world’s news media, some referring to the battle as a “little Dien Bien Phu”(the famous battle that ended the French presence in Vietnam in 1954). Artillery, mortars, and rockets fired at Con Thien from camouflaged positions ensconced in the DMZ were intended to drive the Marines off of “The Hill” (as we called it).

An estimated 20,000 North Vietnamese Army (NVA)soldiers surrounded Con Thien on three sides, but the Marines were determined to persevere and not surrender this crucial high ground to the enemy. I’ve attempted to describe the battle for Con Thien as I experienced it from the perspective of a novice Marine second lieutenant assuming his first combat command. My position as a tank platoon leader required me to work alongside the infantry(affectionately called “grunts”) in their trenches and bunkers; yet, make contact daily with the infantry battalion commander and his staff. Also, by virtue of having my five tanks dispersed around the firebase perimeter, I had to traipse around Con Thien every day to update my crewmen on events occurring on The Hill. I had numerous close calls carrying out this duty. The platoon leader that I replaced was wounded twice in his first two weeks there.

Lt. Coan aboard “The Believer” at Con Thien,1968.

Who was responsible for putting the U. S Marines into such a vulnerable, untenable situation?

Secretary of Defense McNamara and PresidentJohnson forbid the American and South Vietnamese Army allies from encroaching on the theoretically inviolate DMZ, even though it was no longer “demilitarized.” Perhaps out of fear that an invasion of the DMZ and NorthVietnam would draw the Communist Chinese into the conflict, as had happened in the Korean War when the Americans invaded North Korea, we Marines had to stay put and not carry the fight north.  To counter the North’s infiltration across the DMZ into South Vietnam, McNamara and his Pentagon “whiz kids” devised a plan called the Strong Point ObstacleSystem (also called McNamara’s wall). Con Thien was the lynchpin of the project, anchoring a bulldozed strip 600 yards wide, ending at another U. S. Marine firebase six miles to the east. The stretched-thin Marines had to both construct those firebases and defend them.

Why Con Thien? Looking at a topographic map from that era, it only appears to be a relatively insignificant piece of high ground in the midst of several square miles of relatively flat terrain.

Anyone who ever set foot atop one of the three hillocks that comprised Con Thien (aka “The Hill of Angels”) would instantly recognize its strategic importance. The viewer had an unimpeded view across the DMZ up into North Vietnam. One could look to the east and see American ships cruising in the South China sea. Looking south, one could see all the way to the major American supply base at Dong Ha, ten miles away. The North Vietnamese Army knew the strategic importance of Con Thien; they wanted desperately to drive us Marines off of there.

Lt. Col. Saul, CO of 2nd Tank Bn., pins Purple Heart and Navy Commendation Medal on 1/Lt. Coan at Camp Lejeune, 1969

What motivated you to want to write about the siege of Con Thien?

When I first came home from Vietnam, I was troubled by PTSD symptoms—depression, nightmares, etc. I found it therapeutic to spend quiet evenings writing about what I’d experienced on The Hill during the siege.  After putting those experiences down on paper over several years, I’d soon filled a three-ring binder with hundreds of hand-written pages. My dear wife, Sandra, typed those notes and then encouraged me to pursue publication. Now, the important Con Thien story can be brought to light and not be buried forever in the dusty, back-room archives of some military history research facility.

What were some of the most significant events you participated in?

My third night at Con Thien, the NVA attacked the northern perimeter where my tank was located. We successfully fought off that attack. Two days later, a monsoon deluge washed out our roads, bunkers and trench lines. I was cut off from Con Thien when a collapsed culvert washed out the main supply route. Three days later, when attempting to return to Con Thien, both of my tanks hit mines, forcing me and my crewmen to go on foot with the infantry.

One night, an American fighter/bomber strayed off course and dropped four bombs on Con Thien’s northern perimeter, collapsing many bunkers and killing four Marines. I encountered a friend I knew from the Basic Officer School at Quantico and shared some C-ration coffee with him that morning. Later that afternoon, he and his company commander were both killed by incoming artillery. My platoon rotated off The Hill two days later.

“Time in the Barrel” is an interesting phrase. What does that mean?

Marines referred to being at Con Thien as spending “time in the barrel” (as in the phrase, “like shootin’ fish in a barrel”). Units assigned to Con Thien could expect to be shelled daily by the enemy gunners in the DMZ. The besieged Marines on the hill called themselves the “mole people” because they had to live in deeply-dug bunkers to avoid becoming a casualty. The book cover photo summarizes what we Marines endured to hold Con Thien, no matter what the cost; but, the cost was high—many of us paid the full price.

Sign posted by Con Thien’s main gate entrance. And the reverse side of main gate sign

2018 Holiday Gift Guide

Still shopping for (and stressing over) thoughtful gifts for your friends and family? We’ve got you covered with books on history, language, culture, art, nature, and more. Give the gift of knowledge this holiday season, and get 30% off these titles with code HOLIDAYS18 at checkout.

Alabama: The History of a Deep South State edited by William Warren Rogers, Robert David Ward, Leah Rawls Atkins, and Wayne Flynt

For your dad, the history buff.

Alabama: The History of a Deep South StateBicentennial Edition is a comprehensive narrative account of the state from its earliest days to the present. This edition, updated to celebrate the state’s bicentennial year, offers a detailed survey of the colorful, dramatic, and often controversial turns in Alabama’s evolution. Organized chronologically and divided into three main sections—the first concluding in 1865, the second in 1920, and the third bringing the story to the present—makes clear and interprets the major events that occurred during Alabama’s history within the larger context of the South and the nation.

Also of interest: Alabama: The Making of an American State by Edwin C. Bridges

A Centennial Celebration of the Bright Star Restaurant by Bright Star Restaurant, Inc.

For your foodie friends.

This book is the story of the Greek immigrant who left his tiny village in the rugged mountains of Greece’s Peloponnesos region for the uncertainty of a new life in a new country. The story traces the founding of the restaurant in 1907 and the family that continues the tradition of fine food and genuine hospitality that began there a century ago.

Also of interest: Barbecue: The Making of An American Institution by Robert F. Moss

Speaking of Alabama: The History, Diversity, Function, and Change of Language edited by Thomas E. Nunnally

For the logophiles in your life.

Written in an accessible manner for general readers and scholars alike, Speaking of Alabama includes such subjects as the special linguistic features of the Southern drawl, the “phonetic divide” between north and south Alabama, “code-switching” by African American speakers in Alabama, pejorative attitudes by Alabama speakers toward their own native speech, the influence of foreign languages on Alabama speech to the vibrant history and continuing influence of non-English languages in the state, as well as ongoing changes in Alabama’s dialects.

Also of interest: New Perspectives on Language Variety in the SouthHistorical and Contemporary Approaches edited by Michael D. Picone, Catherine Evans Davies

Nature Journal by L. J. Davenport

For your friends who keep asking you to go camping.

Nature Journal is an innovative presentation of the best columns and photographs from L. J. Davenport’s popular column in Alabama Heritage magazine. Readers of the magazine have come to relish his artful and often witty descriptions of common species encountered in the Alabama outdoors. But Nature Journal is designed to be much more than a mere collection of entertaining essays; it is also an educational tool—a means of instructing and encouraging readers in the art of keeping a nature journal for themselves.

Also of interest: Exploring Wild Alabama: A Guide to the State’s Publicly Accessible Natural Areas by Kenneth M. Wills and L. J. Davenport

Almost Family: A Novel by Roy Hoffman

For the members of your book club.

Nebraska Waters is black. Vivian Gold is Jewish. In an Alabama kitchen where, for nearly thirty years, they share cups of coffee, fret over their children, and watch the civil rights movement unfold out their window, and into their homes, they are like family—almost.
As Nebraska makes her way, day in and out, to Vivian’s house to cook and help tend the Gold children, the “almost” threatens to widen into a great divide. The two women’s husbands affect their relationship, as do their children, Viv Waters and Benjamin Gold, born the same year and coming of age in a changing South. The bond between the women both strengthens and frays.

Also of interest: Alabama Afternoons: Profiles and Conversations by Roy Hoffman

Time in the Barrel: A Marine’s Account of the Battle for Con Thien by James P. Coan

For your uncle who loved Ken Burns’ Vietnam documentary.

For eight months, James P. Coan’s five-tank platoon was assigned to Con Thien while attached to various Marine infantry battalions. A novice second lieutenant at the time, the author kept a diary recording the thoughts, fears, and frustrations that accompanied his life on “The Hill.” Time in the Barrel: A Marine’s Account of the Battle for Con Thien offers an authentic firsthand account of the daily nightmare that was Con Thien. An enticing and fascinating read featuring authentic depictions of combat, it allows readers to fully grasp the enormity of the fierce struggle for Con Thien.

Also of interest: Con Thien: The Hills of Angels by James P. Coan

Among the Swamp People: Life in Alabama’s Mobile-Tensaw River Delta by Watt Key

For your cousin who’s writing their first novel.

Among the Swamp People is the story of author Watt Key’s discovery of the Mobile-Tensaw River Delta. “The swamp” consists of almost 260,000 acres of wetlands located just north of Mobile Bay. There he leases a habitable outcropping of land and constructs a primitive cabin from driftwood to serve as a private getaway. His story is one that chronicles the beauties of the delta’s unparalleled natural wonders, the difficulties of survival within it, and an extraordinary community of characters—by turns generous and violent, gracious and paranoid, hilarious and reckless—who live, thrive, and perish there.

Also of interest: Fanning the Spark: A Memoir by Mary Ward Brown

Grandeur of the Everyday: The Paintings of Dale KenningtonIntroduction by Daniel White, Conversation with Kristen Miller Zohn, Essay by Rebecca Brantley

For your sister who binge watches Bob Ross’ The Joy of Painting.

Grandeur of the Everyday is the first full-length volume dedicated to the life and work of Dale Kennington—an accomplished master of contemporary American realism. Kennington’s works often hold a strange familiarity, even for those coming to her work for the first time. Her paintings are at once familiar and yet defy specificity of place, clear and lucid while also dense in content. These effects derive from her unique ability to capture the essence of everyday living, the ordinary “in between” moments we often overlook in our day-to-day habits and transactions.

Also of interest: Visions of the Black Belt: A Cultural Survey of the Heart of Alabama by Robin McDonald and Valerie Pope Burns

Fascinating Foods from the Deep South: Favorite Recipes from the University Club of Tuscaloosa, Alabama by Alline P. Van Duzor

For your grandmother, the best cook you know. (And also anyone who has had the pleasure of trying the University Club’s bread pudding.)

In the University Club’s early years, the major force behind the gracious dining at that elegant antebellum house was Alline P. Van Duzor, who presided over the club with a will as strong as the cast-iron skillets that hung in her kitchen. Her tempting cuisine attracted many loyal diners to the club who invariably asked for the recipes. This cookbook was the result, written by Van Duzor in 1961 in characteristically straightforward style, and when originally published, it sold through at least eight printings. 
The more than 250 mouth-watering recipes from the Old South contained in the now-classic cookbook are written with easy-tofollow instructions, using common fresh and store-bought ingredients. This new edition has been augmented by a guide to portions and food brand names, an index to the recipes, and an appendix of past presidents of the University Club Board. 

Also of interest: Man Food: Recipes from the Iron Trade by Sloss Furnace Historical Landmark

The Road South: Personal Stories of the Freedom Riders by B. J. Hollars

For your woke aunt who reads The New Yorker.

While much has been written on the Freedom Rides, far less has been published about the individual riders. Join award-winning author B. J. Hollars as he sets out on his own journey to meet them, retracing the historic route and learning the stories of as many surviving riders as he could. The Road South: Personal Stories of the Freedom Riders offers an intimate look into the lives and legacies of the riders. Throughout the book these civil rights veterans’ poignant, personal stories offer timely insights into America’s racial past and hopeful future.

Also of interest: Thirteen Loops: Race, Violence, and the Last Lynching in America by B. J. Hollars