Robert Wideman was born in Montreal, grew up in East Aurora, New York, and has dual U.S./Canadian citizenship. During the Vietnam War, he flew 134 missions for the U.S. Navy and spent six years as a prisoner of war. Wideman earned a master’s degree in finance from the Naval Postgraduate School. After retiring from the Navy, he graduated from the University of Florida College of Law, practiced law in Florida and Mississippi, and became a flight instructor. Robert Wideman holds a commercial pilot’s license with an instrument rating, belongs to Veterans Plaza of Northern Colorado, and lives in Ft. Collins near his two sons and six grandchildren.
Q: Congratulations on the release of your book, Unexpected Prisoner. What was your inspiration for it?
A: My two sons and six grandchildren inspired me to write this book, because I wanted something to leave something permanent on paper for them about my experience as a POW in North Vietnam. I also wanted to tell the world that it was harder on our families than it was on us. We knew that we were getting our two slops and a flop every day. Our families did not know anything about our treatment. I also wanted to rebut the propaganda that our government released to the public about the treatment of POWs in North Vietnam.
Q: Why was the writing of this book important for you?
A: Writing this book was important to me, because I wanted something permanently on paper for my children and grandchildren. I also wanted to tell people how difficult this experience was on our families. My mother could not eat a steak for six years, because she did not know if the North Vietnamese gave me enough to eat. This experience destroyed my father. When I came home he looked like he was 100 years old. He was only 57.
Q: How was your creative process like during the writing of this book and how long did it take you to complete it? Did you face any bumps along the way?
A: I think my creative process was like zero. I just wrote the way I talk, because someone told me that that is what you are supposed to do. It took me four years to write 100 pages. Two years ago, at age 71, I realized that I might not finish this book before someone put me in the ground. I contacted Graham Communications in Denver, Colorado. Mark Graham introduced me to Cara Lopez Lee. Cara is the co-author. It took her two more years to finish this book. This book has 374 pages now. She did a wonderful job. The only bumps I faced along the way were when I edited what Cara wrote. We fought like cats and dogs, because she looked at the book from an artist’s point of view, while I looked at the book from my personal experiences. We resolved our differences, and I think, together, we came up with a great product.
Q: What is the one thing you hope readers will take away from your book?
A: I hope that readers will read my book and question the official story that our government put out on the treatment of POWs in North Vietnam. I also hope that readers will question everything our government does and says. The government looks out for their favorite interest groups and ignores others.
Q: What discoveries or surprises did you experience while writing this book?
A: I learned that it took a lot longer to write a book than I thought it would. I also learned that sometimes you just have to take a break and walk away from your work. Otherwise you might go a little stir crazy. You also have to learn to get along with the publisher and the co-author otherwise all your work will go to waste.
Q: How do you define success as an author?
A: I define success by the reaction of those who actually read my book. So far, the response has been terrific. If you go on Amazon, my book has never received lass than 5 stars, which is the best you can do. I am also very happy that veterans who were in the infantry really like my book too. Many infantry veterans think that pilots had an easier job during wartime than they did, and they were right. The infantry always bears the brunt during wartime. I believe that veterans who had to fight on the ground can relate to my book, because my book supports what they had to go through and how they feel.
Q: Could you talk a little bit about your publishing process?
A: Yes I can. It was a goat rope! The publishing experience was totally unexpected. It seems like the publishing industry is set up for the benefit of distributors, printers, and publishers. It is definitely not set up for the benefit of authors. Amazon takes 55% off the top. Then IngramSpark charges 6.44 to print each copy. On a book that retails for $15.95 that leaves $.74 profit on each book before taxes. That is less than 5% profit. That is just outrageous and tells you all you need to know about the publishing industry.
Q: What advice would you give to aspiring nonfiction writers? Could you offer some tips or resources that have been helpful to you?
A: I believe that everyone has a story to tell. You need to do a lot of research on publishing. I am still finding out new ways I could have gone both in the writing , the publishing, and the distribution.
Q: Anything else you’d like to tell my readers?
A: Yes. Buy more books.
Title: UNEXPECTED PRISONER: Memoir of a Vietnam Prisoner of War
Author: Robert Wideman
Publisher: Graham Publishing Group
Find on Amazon
About the Book:
When Unexpected Prisoner opens, it’s May 6, 1967 and 23-year-old Lieutenant Robert Wideman is flying a Navy A-4 Skyhawk over Vietnam. At 23, Wideman had already served three and a half years in the Navy—and was only 27 combat days away from heading home to America. But on that cloudless day in May, on a routine bombing run, Wideman’s plane crashed and he fell into enemy hands. Captured and held for six years as a Prisoner of War in Vietnam, Wideman endured the kind of pain that makes people question humanity. Physical torture, however, was not the biggest challenge he was forced to withstand. In his candid memoir, Unexpected Prisoner, Wideman details the raw, unvarnished tale of how he came to understand the truth behind Jean-Paul Sartre’s words: “Hell is other people.”
A gripping, first-person account that chronicles the six-year period Wideman spent in captivity as a POW, Unexpected Prisoner plunges readers deep into the heart of one of the most protracted, deadliest conflicts in American history: the Vietnam War. Wideman, along with acclaimed memoirist Cara Lopez Lee, has crafted a story that is exquisitely engaging, richly detailed, and wholly captivating. Unexpectedly candid and vibrantly vivid, this moving memoir chronicles a POW’s struggle with enemies and comrades, Vietnamese interrogators and American commanders, lost dreams, and ultimately, himself.
With its eye-opening look at a soldier’s life before, during and after captivity, Unexpected Prisoner presents a uniquely human perspective on war and on conflicts both external and internal. An exceptional story exceptionally well-told, Unexpected Prisoner is a powerful, poignant, often provocative tale about struggle, survival, hope, and redemption.