THE SERPENT PAPERS by Jeff Schnader:
THE VIETNAM WAR IS STILL THE DEFINING EVENT OF ITS GENERATION. It created a rift between those who fought and those who protested—a rift which this novel aims to heal with rapprochement.
“One of the two best manuscripts I’ve read all year. You write extremely—extraordinarily—well [the other manuscript was "The Medicis"]. Characters are fully-fleshed, complex and interesting. Use of The Serpent is original and interesting. And the evocation of the times is vivid and apropos.”
—FORMER PUBLISHER & PRESIDENT OF DUTTON BOOKS and EDITOR OF ERNEST HEMINGWAY, ROBERT LUDLUM & JAMES BALDWIN
“A great read! Interesting and captivating! A vivid story of coming of age in the Vietnam era – politics and protests, a cynical drug culture, military misadventure and making love, not war. If you were really there and do not remember, you will now.”
—THOMAS FERGUSON, Former US Principal Deputy Undersecretary-Defense (for Presidents Bush & Obama)
“Probing the consciences of people and a nation during a pivotal era, The Serpent Papers, an intimate novel, is about the development of one’s personal values, the costs of following one’s conscience, taking a stand when life itself is at risk, and what it means to be a patriot.”
—Kristine Morris, FOREWORD REVIEWS
“Literary circles will soon know the name Jeff Schnader, as his novel, The Serpent Papers, an intriguing, engrossing mosaic tale of relationships forged in a contentious and conflicted era, will certainly become a bestseller. This emerging master storyteller will have already made a significant and noteworthy contribution to historical fiction. A captivating read cover to cover, this book commands attention... It is a triumph!”
—Rob Stoller, Executive Producer, Art In Motion
NPR REVIEWER, JOAN BAUM
“The Serpent Papers resonates with significance today as veterans return from Afghanistan, damaged not only by their service but by mounting criticism that the entire adventure was misguided. If we’re going “to try to heal the whole nation,” we must acknowledge this disparity and recognize the cultural as well as political forces that prompted the war in Indochina over 40 years ago, a war that still haunts those who served as well as those who protested. Schnader's book is dedicated to both groups.”
—Joan Baum, Baum on Books, Reviewer for NPR & WSHU
(see below for her more detailed & extensive review)
“So what is conscience? How can we live with it, be true to it, examine it every moment of every day? The Serpent Papers addresses these questions. Every page in this book is right in the intellectual wheelhouse. The war in Vietnam confronted all of us in our generation; it was like no other. We had to be true to our consciences, and that’s what this book is about. The pressure for us to define our allegiances was real and constantly present; moral lines were drawn. Each of us had to decide whether to fight this war or to resist the horror of it.
“The vivid and real characters in this brilliant, masterful book bring us right back to the days of that era when each of us had to take a stand. They remind us how our decisions—whether to follow our consciences or to ignore them—might make us murderers or Congressional Medal recipients.
“I loved this book. An important book, it is the best I’ve read in the past ten years.”
—Michael D. Smar, M.D., Bronze Star Recipient
Combat Medic, US Army, 1st Infantry, Vietnam, 1968-69
Author of the Foreword for The Serpent Papers
“The Serpent Papers will be enjoyed by readers who care about America. Schnader is a story teller and has created a world that is engaging. It’s a novel that is hard to put down.”
–Richard Nochimson, Professor Emeritus of English, Yeshiva University
“You have created wonderful & interesting characters. J-Bee’s evolution is convincing and moving. You have blended the political, the historical, the academic & the emotions & feelings of the times. This is a heady mix.”
—Editor & Former Book Publisher
WRITERS SPOTLIGHT & BOOKSCOVER2COVER REVIEW
“I could not put The Serpent Papers down. I was vicariously identifying with J-Bee's [the protagonist's] existential search for the soul, the epiphany, the reason for being. It brought me back to my younger self.
“I thought about this book for a month. The Serpent Papers finds the human soul. It is Schnader’s gift.”
—Sandra Fluck, Founder and Publisher of both THE WRITE LAUNCH literary journal & BOOKSCOVER2COVER
(See below for her extensive review as seen in THE WRITERS SPOTLIGHT & bookscover2cover)
“If you want to know what it was like in the early ‘70’s in America’s colleges as the Viet Nam War dragged on and on, then this is your ticket to the tie-dyed, psychedelic, bell-bottomed world of Columbia University at the peak of the Anti-Establishment, Anti-Vietnam War, Make-Love-Not-War Woodstock Era of America’s youth. This book takes you right back to those days of ‘Hell No, We Won’t Go’, when Students for a Democratic Society and the notorious Weathermen held sway across campuses from coast to coast.
“I was amazed that I identified so much with the main character, J-Bee. As I read, I was rooting for the students to win their fight. J-Bee is thrust into the maelstrom of political turmoil complicated by his fiery first love and strained relationships with his parents, childhood friends, anti-war friends and the Mysterious Serpent, a coffee house sage who speaks pearls of Wisdom and Truth to those who will hear.
“A rollicking ride of conflict through the trials and tribulations of a young American torn between his family, who want him to serve the nation honorably, and those opposed to serving, all of whom are competing for his very soul.”
-Recipient of 3 Purple Hearts & 2 Bronze Stars, Army Commendation Medal with "V" Device with 3 Oak Leaf Clusters, Air Medal, Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry with Gold Palm Award, Meritorious Service Medal
-US Army, 1st Infantry & Americal Divisions; Vietnam, 1966-67, 68-69, 70-71 (served 1000 days)
-Playwright of the drama: Bonne Annee
COMMENT OF COLUMBIA UNIV ALUMNA:
“Wow! As a Columbia alum, I have always been fascinated by its history. Through an incredibly sophisticated and brilliantly talented use of the written word from the opening paragraph to the last page, The Serpent Papers read with such forward moving force that I did not want to get off the ride. It was gripping, riveting—in one word: timeless. It blew me away. I absolutely loved it. Bravo!”
—Victoria Fedrigotti, Columbia University alumna and Published Curator, Art Critic & Art Historian
“Just finished the book and I’m stunned by its intensity. Wow! The writing is so vivid and beautiful. Every sentence painted a picture. The book allowed me to experience the 1970s with the depth that my emotional and cognitive immaturity stifled all those years ago. J-Bee’s internal struggle for identity and meaning was so powerful... You brought him to life and opened a window into a world that rings so true. Thank you for letting me in.”
—Janet Maurer, PhD
“Wow! Finished The Serpent Papers in 2 days. I spent the summers of 1969 and 70 in New York, and the book brought me back to those extraordinary and tumultuous times. I sat with my two best American friends as they anxiously watched the Viet Nam lottery on tv discussing options.
“The book really captured the overriding themes and flavor of those days, including but not limited to: LSD, pot, make love not war, basement cafés, music and most impactful the blurred fine line between law and order and peaceful protest. I love the way the book connected all the characters in a seamless way.”
—Michael, Munzar, MD, CM, Chairman of the Board, HEXO Corporation
PROFESSOR OF HISTORY COMMENTS:
“In this engaging bildungsroman by Jeff Schnader, we become deeply immersed in the time of American life and culture during the war years 1971-1972, and in a place, Columbia University in the City of New York. We learn of friendship, growth, and love, as The Serpent reveals the path toward living a good life.”
—James W. Oberly, Editor of *Budapest Blackout: The Wartime Diaries of Dr. Mária Mádi* (forthcoming, 2022), Professor Emeritus of History, University of Wisconsin
TESTIMONIAL OF KENT STATE UNIV ALUMNUS:
“I had the privilege of reading this book. I often reflect on the events that shaped our experiences & lives. I was not expecting to be personally drawn into the novel, but how could I have known that The Serpent Papers was going to stimulate my memories and emotions of being a student at Kent State University in 1971-1974? This book opened labyrinths that have been locked in my memories for fifty years.
“I have spent weeks recalling the discussion and kinetic atmosphere propagated by students, faculty, police, school administration and elected officials. I have wanted to reexamine and document this experience for my children and grandchildren for quite some time. Fabulous stuff—thanks, Jeff Schnader, for making it happen!”
—Steven Magida, 1974 Kent State University graduate
“I certainly agree with Richard Marek that the writing is better than just about anything that comes in over the transom.”
—Editor, Book Editors Alliance
“The characters are very strong. The major idea of this novel is intriguing. The tensions between J-Bee’s background, his personal code, the thrill of campus life, and his relationships drive the story in a unique direction. The story is well written, exciting and full of insight; allusions and imagery enhance the experience. It is a book that makes me think; I imagine writing essays on it. The relevance to today's culture is obvious.
—Aaron Kaiserman, PhD, Faculty, English Literature Department, University of Ottawa
“Praise for The Serpent Papers: This Vietnam-era novel vividly captures the pivotal time when young American men's futures hung in the balance. An unforgettable, paradigm-shifting perspective on the era!”
—Margaret Winslow, PhD, Professor Emerita, City University of New York, and author of the books: Over My Head, The Cusp of Dreadfulness, and Smart Ass.
“Unexpectedly, I don’t simply like The Serpent Papers, I am enthralled! The writing is special, authentic in voice and compelling. I read more slowly so as not to miss a phrase, a thought. Fascinating and leaves me wanting more. It will stand the test of time and genuinely reflect that era from the inside out. I have become a besotted fan, very unlike me. The book brings me back to a time in my life of excitement, cosmic change and my own questioning of right and wrong.
“I loved the book, J Bee, the Columbia life and the very internal questions that can never be fully answered. The writing is insightful yet conversational despite the difficult subject matter. This is a winner. I can see it on the big screen. The pleasure was all mine.”
—Dr. Vivien Brown MDCM, CCFP, FCFP, NCMP, Assistant Professor, University of Toronto, VP North America, Medical Women’s International Association
DECORATED VIETNAM VETERAN TESTIMONIAL:
“As a two-time recipient of the Bronze Star and Vietnam War combat veteran, I would be placed in the role of the character Gilly in The Serpent Papers. Drafted out of college, my choices were made for me, and my life was thrust into the darkness of war. [Now I’m like] a snake [who] cannot crawl back into his skin.
“The characters in The Serpent Papers have expanded my concepts, which have been clouded by perspective. I now understand that young men at home were trudging through the trenches of political mud for my sake. Very good read!”
—Arthur T Swanner, Recipient of 2 Bronze Stars
-US Army, 2nd & 94th Artillery
-Two tours in combat, Vietnam War
“Jeff Schnader writes a tale that encapsulates a very difficult time in US history. He exposes generational differences and conflicted emotions due to the Vietnam War. The character of J-Bee knits together a great read that will force you to reflect not only on that time but your own experiences.”
—Professor Ian MacDonald, MD, CM, Chair, Department of Ophthalmology & Visual Sciences, University of Alberta
When he began writing his debut novel, The Serpent Papers, about the Vietnam protests, Jeff Schnader had no way of knowing that The United States would pull out of Afghanistan after 20 years, ending what had been America’s longest war. The announcement of the move late last year once again ignited the controversy over Vietnam, a dubious war whose horrendous casualty count is still being refined. It includes not only Americans who died and were severely wounded but those came home psychologically impaired, many addicted, to a divisive reception.
It was a desire, a deep-felt need, Schnader says, to try to address that divide between opposition to the Vietnam War and appreciation of the men drafted to fight in it that most motivated him to write The Serpent Papers. The book resonates with significance today, as veterans return from Afghanistan, damaged not only by their service but by mounting criticism that the entire adventure was misguided. If we’re going “to try to heal the whole nation,” Schnader adds, we must acknowledge this disparity and recognize the cultural as well as political forces that prompted the war in Indochina over 40 years ago, a war that still haunts those who served as well as those who protested. His book is dedicated to both groups.
Like The Serpent Papers’ protagonist (J-Bee), Schnader participated in sit-ins and the violent resistance to NYC’s armed Tactical Police Force in the early 1970s at Columbia University. It is to the author’s credit that he shows how J-Bee, a Southern boy who came from a Catholic, conservative, military family – his father was a decorated Rear Admiral – evolved from his childhood in Virginia. The change was prompted by a strong desire to escape the memory of cruelty inflicted by the Sisters of Eustace; growing abuse from his increasingly alcoholic father; the traumatic accidental death of his younger brother trying to flee bullies, for which J Bee exacted a violent retribution; rejection from a girl, his first love; and finally, at Columbia, falling under the influence of articulate radicals in his dorm and succumbing to the heady seduction of an older coed and the sexually loose and drug-infused generation on campus.
Fighting, patriotism – these were the expectations of his father, as well as the ideals of his less well-off best friend, who enlists to go to ‘Nam, but the arguments for and against the draft and the war are fair and authentic, the dialogues impressive. No “types” stand in for individual beliefs and referenced intellectual underpinnings, including the words of a mysterious “Serpent” of the book’s title, a man whose invisible voice emerges from a basement in a seedy Broadway bar. Called the “patron saint of The Apocalypse,” the Serpent urges the young to act on their conscience.
Entering Columbia in 1972, one year after the student killings at Kent State, Schnader, like J-Bee who also was not drafted, went to a Canadian medical school, with further work at Johns Hopkins. He then worked in veterans’ hospitals for 22 years. A Professor of Medicine, he started writing short stories, which won awards, but he wanted to write this novel for a long time, confronting, like his protagonist, the era that changed his life. The Serpent Papers is not a memoir though it reads like one. It certainly is timely.
Welcome to The Writers Spotlight, where we feature books by writers who have been published on The Write Launch (from the monthly newsletter of October 26, 2021)
Review by Sandra Fluck (abridged to avoid revealing plot points)
Founder & Publisher, bookscover2cover &
THE WRITE LAUNCH literary journal
Jeff Schnader’s novel The Serpent Papers is about the completion of Joseph Bell’s soul. This battle is fought within and without, and the outcome determines whether his soul lives or dies. It is not a Manichean question if Joseph Bell—call him J-Bee—son of a rear admiral and raised to be a warrior, will follow in his father’s footsteps, as if Darwinian succession is central to his autobiography. J-Bee will strike out on his own; he will not allow his father to decide for him. He is eighteen years old.
J-Bee matriculates at Columbia University in the fall of 1971, the year after the Ohio National Guard killed four unarmed students at Kent State University during a peace rally against the Vietnam War. In 1971, the United States is as polarized as it has ever been, and protests and marches occur daily at colleges and universities across the country. Protests that began in the mid-60s continue unabated in the early ‘70s, and J-Bee is part of this history in the “hotbed of radicalism, den of iniquity,” as the Sisters of St Eustace name it.
During his first year at Columbia, J-Bee’s soul is tested. Gilly, his boyhood friend and now a soldier in the killing fields of Vietnam, teaches J-Bee that the violent id of his psyche can transition to an existential quest. Margo and Bloom, two characters built into the thematic structure as essential harbingers of what is to come, push him toward this journey of enlightenment. J-Bee confesses: “As my metamorphosis progressed, I came out of the darkness to emerge as a being who rejoiced in the sun, on the verge of understanding, though not yet enlightened; possibility of satori was palpable.”
Novels typically have a main plot and subordinate themes, but the themes in The Serpent Papers merge into one plot—not one theme usurps the privilege of the others. One could say that the plot is the serpent papers themselves; certainly they are intrinsic to the innermost secret of the novel, but without the themes feeding this secret, there would be no enlightened soul named J-Bee. Perhaps it is Schnader’s gift that the various themes are not competitive with each other but instead lift up the story to an equivalent structure; in other words, the structural body of The Serpent Papers is so intricately bound that no theme is an interloper.
The interdependent themes presuppose the coherence of the novel, just as the themes emerge in increments of insight through the characters uniquely equipped to carry the meaning, as if the synergy among the various elements were established from the outset. Certainly, it is no accident that the five themes, through the coherent structure and interlocking plot, move J-Bee toward the enlightenment he seeks. He is no longer the mystified onlooker or angry man.
The five characters—Jerry, The Sisters of St Eustace, Gilly, Margo, and Bloom—contest the one-plot, main-character construction of the novel. J-Bee is the narrator, the character who plays a starring role, but the five named characters, and the themes relevant to J-Bee’s reconstructed self, surmount the typical construction of a main character, one plot. These characters are instrumental in J-Bee’s discerning the meaning of the serpent of the apocalypse, his dream of the green snake, “the image of the four-legged serpent emblazoned in my brain. And then I was in front of a mirror, and the serpent was there, and he was me.”
Sometimes, authors are wise enough to place the element of foreshadowing in just the right spots, spreading the clues so that readers find release in guessing what the foreshadowing augers. Such is the motive of foreshadowing behind the stories of Margo and Bloom in The Serpent Papers—extensive, intricate stories that parallel the themes found in the stories of Jerry, the Sisters of St Eustace, and Gilly. At some point, however, the individual stories intersect to create the complete plot in this theme-driven novel. The Serpent Papers finds the human soul.
(For the full & unabridged review, please the bookscover2cover website or: https://mailchi.mp/thewritelaunch/writers-at-the-write-launch-spotlight?e=bfa5dc5ca0)
AMAZON: Order The Serpent Papers (available Feb 28, 2022)
Hardcover & Paperback: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1579626483/ref=dbs_a_def_rwt_hsch_vapi_taft_p1_i0Audible Audiobook (Narrated by Donald Corren): https://www.audible.com/author/Jeff-Schnader/B09B5GD5M9
AMERICAN LEGION: https://www.legion.org/yourwords/books/253579/serpent-papers
Author Site: https://go.authorsguild.org/members/5798
Awards Announcements for Jeff Schnader: https://www.authorsguild.org/member-awards/jeff-schnader-wins-quills-creative-writing-contest/
BARNES & NOBLE:
BOOKSCOVER2COVER REVIEW: Coming soon...
CHESAPEAKE BAY WRITERS:
COLUMBIA ALUMNI ASSOCIATION BOOKSHELF:
COLUMBIA FICTION FOUNDRY: Coming soon...
FANTASTIC FICTION: https://www.fantasticfiction.com/s/jeff-schnader/serpent-papers.htm
FOREWORD REVIEWS: To be posted in January
THE HISTORY VOYAGER INTERVIEW: Author Discusses The Serpent Papers
Podcast Recorded Nov 21,2021: https://thehistoryvoyager.podbean.com
JAMES RIVER WRITERS:
November 2021 News: https://mail.google.com/mail/u/0/?tab=wm#all/FMfcgzGllCdWmwkNmDqgxSsWSSDSrGkC
KIRKUS REVIEWS: coming soon...
THE PERMANENT PRESS: Order The Serpent Papers
PUBLISHERS WEEKLY: GRAB A GALLEY, WINTER-SPRING 2022
THE WRITE LAUNCH LITERARY JOURNAL
Author Page: https://thewritelaunch.com/author/j-schnader/