By TYLER MANNING, Independent Disc
HELENA, Mont. (AP) – Fred Terry, a Helena Valley resident, never aspired to be a published author, but he ended up being published after writing a children’s book as a way to connect with his children during his deployment with the US Army National Guard.
His children’s book, “White Paw: Beyond the Gate,” tells a slightly fictional version of what happened at the Terry family farm while Fred spent nine months on deployment to the Guantanamo Bay Detention Center in Cuba. It is told from the perspective of a puppy who lived on the farm after being given birth by one of the family dogs, Prancer the puppy.
The book is somewhat whimsical, as his children tell Fred through their daily observations while deployed. It features many talking animals like Mr. Magic, the old goat of the family that lives on the farm.
Fred said he kept a journal while deployed on various missions with the Guard. While in Cuba he decided he wanted to do something more to create, as he puts it, “a recording of my time away from my family”.
“I didn’t start with the plan to write a book. I always keep a little journal to commemorate this time away from my children, ”Fred told Independent Record. “It was really (his wife) Trish’s idea. Every month on the 27th, the day I went on deployment, we used Facetime and I read a few chapters. It was a good way to connect with the kids through storytelling.
According to Fred, reading chapters from the book each month was a good way to count time for the couple’s five children: Kyara, Jobe, Elisha, Amariah, and Anaiah.
“It kind of became a party night for everyone,” said Fred. “They would all gather around the TV or whatever and eat popcorn while I read to them.”
Trish said the girls in particular always laughed and laughed because they were in the story.
According to Fred, the book and reading the story not only helped his children cope with his absence, but also helped him deal with his own homesickness while on deployment.
“It really helped me stay engaged with what was going on on the farm,” said Fred.
Fred began to realize that what started out as a wildlife project had turned into a full story.
“I realized towards the end that I kind of had a real book in my hands,” said Fred. “So I spoke with a woman at church who had already published books and she explained all the different options to me. “
Fred eventually opted for Kindle direct publishing for the book through Amazon. “White Paw” can be downloaded for Kindle, or a hard copy can be purchased from Amazon.
However, Fred isn’t the only Montana veteran contributing to the book. Another member of the Fred’s Butte-based unit, Jon Poe of Billings, illustrated the book for him. Fred said the fortuitous partnership came about after seeing some of Poe’s scribbles on notepads. Fred walked over to him and asked if he would be interested, and Poe was.
Poe initially did line drawings for the book, but was not personally happy with the turnout. He then decides to redo all the illustrations in a watercolor style. According to Fred, most of the work the two have done together has been in quarantine at various facilities, due to COVID-19, for about 50 days in total.
According to Fred, the book has become a source of camaraderie in the unit. While there was some teasing about it, there were also a lot of collective contributions as the project progressed.
The product of their work is a book of 13 chapters and approximately 150 pages written by Fred and illustrated in color by Poe.
However, this end product of having a paperback published is somewhat superfluous for Fred. The goal was not to make money, although several copies had been sold at this point, but rather to bond with his children again during his deployment.
Reading on Facetime was a great way to count the months, and Fred saved the last chapter to read to them when he got home, he said.
This was Fred’s third deployment in 33 and a half years with the Guard. Currently, he works as a signals officer for the National Guard, making sure communications are functioning properly. He had previously been deployed to Afghanistan as a military police officer.
According to Fred, the family briefly touched on the idea of Fred writing another book. It would be a family affair again with the kids contributing and Trish, who homeschooling the kids, helping as a copywriter.
“I never even really thought about writing, but as I wrote I thought I should take it more seriously,” said Fred. “It really awakened being an author in me a bit. A potential new hobby. It also made me read different books. I have a more critical point of view on them now, I see a lot of little things and things that the writers are doing.
For the family, this book served its purpose as it represents a moment in the life of the family where Fred had gone. He said there was nothing to mark his stay in Afghanistan in the same way. Definitely not something that has allowed Fred and Trish to incorporate the lessons they want their kids to learn as they get older.
Prancer the puppy has moved on. He found his own farm to live on after a while, but many personified animals are still there at Terry Farm north of Helena.
“The only thing I want people to remember is that for families stuck at home, deployment is difficult,” said Fred. “Do whatever you can for them, even if it’s something small.”
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