Intern Spotlight: Megan

Working at The University of Alabama Press has been an eye opening experience and a great delight. When much of the world thinks of publishing a book they assume that the writer does all the work, but, in fact, half of what makes a book the product you see on your shelf comes from the dedicated work of a publishing team.

When I first came to the University of Alabama, I knew that I wanted to work with books as a future career but I was uncertain what direction that would take. Being both an English major and an avid reader, I churned through books from classics to contemporary fiction learning to read with a scholar’s eye and a veteran’s familiarity. But this only offered a glimpse at one side of what makes books so remarkable.

It was the September of my Junior year of college that I first received the opportunity of working at The University of Alabama Press as an editorial intern and pulling back the curtain on what was then to me the mysterious process of book publishing. Little did I know, joining the Press would be one of the best experiences of my college career.

Thinking about my time at the Press, one of the things that stands out most to me is the great teamwork and comradery that we have with each other. Every part of the Press, and the book creation process, is deeply entwined. I have been lucky to have such wonderful coworkers and mentors within the Press. They have helped me from the beginning with learning the Chicago Manual of Style to answering the trickier questions of in-depth indexing and rooting out the elusive typo. Whenever I find myself with a question, I never feel uncomfortable nor hesitate to ask.

Beyond editing, my time at the Press has been deeply influential in helping me to find what direction I will take in my future career. I am currently a senior as I write this and will be graduating at the end of this semester. My coworkers are a great help in giving me advice and the insight I need in making this next step. I intend to continue on in the book publishing industry and one day I hope to find myself publishing books of my own.

To my peers at The University of Alabama Press, thank you for your help and the experience I have gained these past two years. I look forward to all the books to come.

Megan McCarter

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Intern Spotlight: Sydney

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.

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