Castles in my mind; that's what it was. It was a new realm building my soul from the ground up—that was Germany and Italy and Austria and Denmark and . . . all the places I found during my European soujourn in service to Uncle Sam. That dear relative dumped me in the middle of downtown Frankfurt am Main with a piece of paper with a single word on it—Grafenwoehr. And although I supposed it was a place, it took me three trains and a good deal of angst (not knowing the language) to get me to this place in the middle of nowhere in Northern Bavaria (Bayern). That initial journey I captured in my (in progress) novel) The Road to Grafenwoehr, a work that I set aside to write The Jade Owl, The Third Peregrination and The Dragon's Pool. Someday I'll return to it, now that my style has met its challenge.I spent over a year as the Battery clerk (no radios for me. I type, remember). It was a cush, if not snowbound existance; and when the snows melted, I went everywhere from Rome to Copenhagen to Muenchen and even over the border to Czechoslovakia (which was invaded while I was there. Ironic if I had actually landed in a war zone after all).
I continued with the short stories and gained something new—a reader. One of the sergeant's wives, Mrs. Rogoff liked my stories From the Wasserturm (was very critical of them as well), but encouraged me to continue. The poetry went apace and dotted the short story anthology. My love life sweltered as I found the gay core of the corps, along with heart-break (I even changed my religion for one guy, ingrate!).Several important works (juvenalia still) emerged. First a romantic gothic novel, Franconian Sunset, which capture local color, the towns and farms and the military, trysts, Romeo and Juliet, murder and mayhem, court martials, separation and tragedy. Mrs. Rogoff never saw it. It was so over the top it embarassed me. But I was learning to extrapolate from the life around me and make fiction. Even better (and still tenable) was Private Love, which is the first time I wrote homoerotically, although I must confess I rewrote it heterosexually and finally ditched it.
Private Love is the chaplain's assistant, who goes to Nuernburg (actually Fuerth) to projectionist school and falls in love (first love) with the teacher, Sergeant Burns. Since I was sent to projectionist school and had such a tryst, it was autobiographical. More the reason to ditch it. Mrs. Rogoff would never see this one. However Private Love returned in my 2001 novel (and play) Turning Idolator. I have also recycled the idea (now that I am sufficiently away from it) as an episode in my fantasy Belmondus.
The most important work I wrote started as a poem called The Porta Regina. It was inspired by a trip to Regensburg, an ancient Roman city and the site of Mad Emperor (Gay as well) Ludwig's shrine to heroism, Valhalla. The poem depicted Roman soldiers standing sentry at the Porta Regina (The Queen's Gate) in the ancient city, and their very human activities therein. It is still in my poetry anthology Catherine and Other Poems. The novel that emerged was a fantasy work, called Ratisbona (the ancient name for Regensburg). Here the ancient Roman setting, the modern one with visiting American soldiers, the Valhalla gallery and the medieval town of Regensburg (complete with torture chamber) intermingle. It was quite lovely actually, if it were not for the poor structure of the whole thing. It was however an important trend, because I was filtering history, something that led me to history's halls after my army stint. A final note on my European duty: it lingers with me still. I returned to Europe with my family a few years later. Germany embraced me, but I fell in love with Italy as any opera lover would. The Road to Grafenwoehr is centered around a fateful trip from Germany to Italy and loosely based on my experiences. And it is not surprising that portions of The Dragon's Pool will be set in the Tuscan Hills, quite far afield from The Jade Owl Serie's penchant for oriental settings. Europe touched me and I touched her. My only regret is never getting to the UK, something that will be rectified before I join the Roman legions on the towers of Ratisbona again.