May 8, 2019

“Wild Blue Yonder,” The Novel That Started It All

“Wild Blue Yonder,” The Novel That Started It All

It’s 1965. Nathaniel Hawthorne Flowers has lost his father, flunked out of the University of Chicago, and finds himself facing the draft. He opts for four years in the US Air Force over two years of Vietnam in the army. He and four like-minded troops are thrown together at a small remote air base in Germany, where they try to make sense of their lives and the strange world in which they find themselves.

These are military misfits whose behavior doesn’t quite qualify for a dishonorable discharge, yet are sufficiently problematic that if they were sent into the Southeast Asia war zone it would look like punishment—therefore more trouble for the military brass. So they are sent to a place irreverently known in the military as “Bumf**k,” where they can be forgotten about until their enlistment runs out.

Arriving in Germany, Nate finds himself heading straight into a military Catch-22. His assignment: writing stories for the Stars and Stripes newspaper, which he soon learns will never see print. Nate’s adventure deepens as he and his fellow troops try to understand why they’re there, the military mindset, and the massive social disruption roiling 1960’s America.

The military is supposed to build teamwork and camaraderie, and that theme is prevalent throughout—but in an ironic sense. “One for all” devolves into self-interest, and the bonds formed by the troops quickly and sadly disintegrate. “Bob Dylan’s Dream” frames what happens to these five young men. Philosophically, Nate learns that in the final analysis, each of us is alone.


Jack is the founding barista of Fictional Café. He wrote over a dozen nonfiction books before returning to his first love, fiction. Wild Blue Yonder was the first volume in the Nathaniel Hawthorne Flowers trilogy and was followed by Madrone and Anarchy, all published by Wheatmark. A fourth novel is in progress. All these novels are available in ebook, Amazon paperback, and Audible formats.

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About theJack B. Rochester
  • Jack B. Rochester says:

    Dear Anonymous, I enjoyed reading your comments. I think you nailed what went into writing the book and saw the leap from personal experience to fiction quite clearly. The most interesting aspect of writing this novel, after 30 years of writing nonfiction, was how my primary experiences morphed into fiction; recalling certain events in my life but then watching the computer screen as the tale took on a life of its own and, believe it or not, ended up blurring the facts of my life with the fictional story in my own memory. Once you get past basic training, the fiction sets in and in no time it’s risen from ten percent fiction to ninety percent. But you saw that, and you enjoyed the story, and as I like to say, “the story’s the thing.” Thanks for your service. I wish I’d joined the Marines. ~ Jack

  • Anonymous says:

    Just finished Wild Blue Yonder. Reads more like a journal than a novel(non-fiction fiction), which suggests the experiences of Nate Flowers, the main character, are more real than contrived, a good thing, of course. There was no readily identifiable and conventional middle to the story; hence, the journalistic feel, but who needs convention. This story is like a walk back through time, since I was two years older than Nate then, and, though I was never a drug user(I even hate medications), it was hard to be in the world then and not be surrounded by them. Nate’s four-year journey in the U.S. Air Force and the frustrations of it all reminds me of my own tour in the U.S. Marine Corps at the time(without the dope). It would be after service, on a visit back to base to see some old buddies, that I saw evidence of even pot. And by then it was pervasive and nobody cared, when a year earlier one would have been in prison for possession… The times they were a-changin’…The minor distraction for me throughout the story was the unlikely assemblage of so many intellectual young men in one place at one point in history, with so much free time, discussing philosophy, and music to enjoy. Well, it was the Air Force, a different outfit with a different mission, still like that. We had intellectuals in the Marine Corps, too, but they were in museums or jails, or in Viet Nam as punishment… The promise of the story, intended or not, comes toward the end, when you’re looking closely to see how Nate resolves the anti-establishment issues that grew in him while in service, and the pressure of dealing with a needy and demanding but loving and single mother back home with mouths to feed…There are so many ways and perspectives to address this story, but attempting them would take a million words. It started kind of sluggishly but drew me in, because Nate was so familiar to me, a classic case of youth encountering the harsh world for the first time, and I wanted to hear his story…Recommended.

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