My grandfather’s name is Don McQuinn. He served in the Marines for 20 years, serving in Korea in 1951 and Vietnam (1964-65 and 1970-1971).

At the age of 42 he retired and ended up becoming an author, his largest work being The Moondark Saga, which you can take a look at here:

Don spent many years teaching at writers conferences and working with local writers associations, so questions from aspiring writers are naturally welcome.

I picked up the e-publishing process from scratch and am in charge of ebook file formatting, paperback to digital conversion, and all those wonderful things. If you have any questions about that, fire away!

Proof: Twitter and Amazon

Edit: We're taking a break now, we'll be back at 4pm PST to answer more questions!

Edit 2: We're back! Don will be back to answering questions again as soon as we pour our afternoon beer.

Edit 3: I think we're about done for the night. Don has really enjoyed answering everyone's questions tonight, so we'll probably do this again sometime. Thank you all for truly making my grandfather's day!

Edit 4: Since this got some more questions overnight we'll just let it roll! Ask your questions and Don will answer them as he can.

Comments: 87 • Responses: 39  • Date: 

Stoooooooo6 karma

Who has inspired you the most in life? How about as an author?

caitmac4 karma

"There have been so many people, I owe so many people so much, that I can't in all honesty who was the most influential with the exception of my father. The old man, that's the start of things right there.

"As a writer? Dean Koontz. He has had more bearing on the way I look at the novel, not writing, but the novel. In terms of thinking about the novel, I think Dean.

"The other person i would mention is Zola Helen Ross. She was in the first writer's group i belonged to. She was the administrator. Absolutely priceless woman. She was a delight, taught English writing at the UW.

"She told us one day, one of my favorite stories about writers, she went to a faculty meeting tickled that she had sold to Saturday Evening Post. The head of the department got on her case for cheapening the department, while he gave the news that he was in some little literary magazine. His essay was on the importance of pauses in King Lear. What?" -Don

Edit: "I also want to add Terry Brooks, John Saul, Elizabeth George, and Christopher Vogler to the list of authors who have been instrumental in my life." -Don

OGWiseman5 karma

Hi Don! The Moondark Saga really changed my life and made me want to be a writer, so I just wanted to say thanks for writing it. My question is: If you were one of the characters in the Creche, which one would you say you are? Are you a Falconer? Or more of a Conway? Tate, perhaps?

Thanks for taking the time to do this AMA! And to anyone who hasn't read the Moondark Saga, you really should. The first book is called "Warrior". Go buy it! There's an ebook version now, I believe, but I prefer the real thing, myself. Here it is on Amazon:

Thanks again!

caitmac2 karma

“Thank you for the compliment, keep on marchin’. Probably Conway. That’s an interesting question, I’d never thought about it. And now I probably won’t be able to quit thinking about it!” -Don

As Don's granddaughter, I can say I definitely see my grandfather most strongly reflected in Conway.

[deleted]2 karma


caitmac6 karma

"You know. Go for it. I won't say don't be afraid, but take risks. But I genuinely believe if you aren't a little bit afraid every day, there's no way in hell of knowing you're alive. Every day you have to be trying so hard you have to believe you're not going to make it. If you don't try hard enough, someone else will be there to push you out of the way." -Don

eddie_koala2 karma

As i sit here, a Marine vet combating PTSD, waiting for my college class to begin, this inspired me tremendously.

caitmac6 karma

"Go get 'em. You can do it. Only you can do it. If you quit, they win." -Don

mrshatnertoyou2 karma

What was Don's most harrowing war experience and what was the most inspirational?

caitmac4 karma

"The worst thing that happens to any infantryman is artillery. You always go into the game, figuring there's a bullet in there with your name on it. But artillery is addressed to whom it may concern. It doesn't care. It's concerning. They're all harrowing though, but you don't have time to be concerned. You've got a job to do.

"The men I served with are the most inspirational. But they all taught me my job. The men I lived with for 20 years were easily the most inspirational part of my job. I didn't jump out of bed every morning and say hooray hooray i'm going to work today,but I always looked forward to the people I worked with. The company I kept, the people I worked with. Good people." -Don

yoursauceisweak1 karma

My fellow Devil Dogs are the only reason when people ask if I would join again, I say yes.

caitmac2 karma

"Makes perfect sense to me, I appreciate you saying it." -Don

uziman552 karma

How was your experience in Vitenam? My uncle was one of the first navy seals in Vietnam. Have you ever worked with them, or saw some of their operations? My uncle wasn't too keen on giving details which I understood and respected 110% but I've always been curious? Thanks for your service!

caitmac3 karma

Q: How was your experience in Vietnam?

A: "It was trying. Which is why I wrote the book Targets. Had to get that bone out of my throat before I could do anything else."

Q:Have you ever worked with them, or saw some of their operations?

A: "Yes."

Q: My uncle wasn't too keen on giving details which I understood and respected 110% but I've always been curious?

A: "Right."

edit: "Yes" and "Right" were said with humor. :)

zoso19692 karma

Sir, how was your outlook different heading into Vietnam after having already been in Korea, versus the first-timers? Was your second tour in Vietnam more or less difficult because of your previous experience and/or the way the war was going at the time? Many thanks and much respect.

caitmac3 karma

"I was a professional, I went in to do my job because my government needed a job done. The answer to your second question is that’s why I wrote the book called Targets. It was a bone in my throat after Vietnam, I had to get it out before I could do anything else." -Don

glandible2 karma

How do you feel about the US's selective service program as a means to staff the military, as opposed to having a volunteer force? Did you feel like the men you served with were more diverse and/or had more perspective to contribute?

I ask in part because I don't imagine that a lot of sci-fi writers come out of today's military (exceptions may exist, of course), but it seems like it's largely a group of people with a similar mindset or circumstances who would enlist.

caitmac4 karma

"When I commanded a platoon in Korea, we had draftees on the line with us. Theoretically they were volunteers, Marine recruiters went down to the office and picked men out. So I have served with draftees and an all volunteer force. And I believe that men and women who are well trained and properly motivated, and properly informed, are indistinguishable in that regard. But I think selective service, for the country, is a great asset."

In response to the second part of the question:

"That’s not really true. People go into the service for their own reasons. And I think the reasons are literally as varied as the individuals. Being in the service, for some of us, is the best way for us to find ourselves." -Don

RobinHobb2 karma

Hi Don! So great to see you doing this! What is your current writing project, besides converting the finished books to e-books? Do you have a new tale in the works?

I've enjoyed your previous books a great deal. Robin

caitmac2 karma

“Delighted to hear from you! Working on a thriller, set in Eastern Europe. Quick question back, how’s Fool’s Assassin going?” -Don

yoursauceisweak2 karma

Did your grandfather ever meet Chesty Puller?

Just got discharged in February, errah!

caitmac5 karma

"Yes. Very briefly, it was enough. The general told me to go chew someone out for him. That's a fact." -Don

eddie_koala2 karma

How did the transition from hardcore Marine to author come about?

caitmac8 karma

"When I got out I failed at civilian. I didn't fit in. I quit my second job, having quit the first, and told my wife I'd go out and get another one. And she said no. I'll get one. I can hold down a job.

And she said "all your life, you've wanted to write, and ever since I met you I wanted you to write. Between my income and your retirement, we'll be fine."

Which was insane. Three kids going to school, one going to college. It was crazy.

But that's what we did. And I had to make it work. Somebody asked earlier about what did you take away from the Marine Corps. What I learned is that you can stop me, but you can't beat me. I'll be back. And when somebody bets on you like that, all the cards on the table are face up. And I had to succeed. There wasn't any option. Pretty simple." -Don

wormmurmur1 karma

What books or projects have you been working on lately?

You mentioned writing Targets to deal with your time in Vietnam and I know it's still a sore subject for veterans and civilians. I'm currently working with a Marine on publishing his memoir and photographs, with the goal of encouraging conversation about the war and ptsd. I'm curious, what brought you back in 1970 after five years out of Vietnam?

caitmac1 karma

"Working on a thriller, set in Eastern Europe. As for Targets, it took me several years, and several novels, to learn how to write a novel. Writing anything requires strength, and you build strength through practice and work. I wasn’t strong enough to start Targets for 5 or 6 years." -Don

two_off1 karma

How much work is required to convert a novel to an ebook?

What are the challenges of the conversion?

With the trilogy in Kindle edition, will they show up on my kindle as three separate books (three files), or one?

caitmac3 karma

It is SO much work to convert the novels. We don't have the old word files anymore, so we actually have to physically scan the old paperbacks. This means cutting the spine off a book, running it through a feed scanner, running OCR conversion on the text, then spend hours and hours cleaning up the crap that OCR spits out. It takes me about a month for each book.

The biggest challenge is definitely the weird little word errors, like eve instead of eye. It's really hard to spot those mistakes and it takes many editing passes to get them all.

The trilogy Kindle edition will show up as one big book with a table of contents that breaks it down internally. This is actually how Warrior, Wanderer and Witch were originally published, as giant 250,000 world books with three internal books.

GIR1011 karma

What unit did you serve in during Korea and Vietnam, respectively?

I come from a long line of military veterans, and I have the utmost respect and gratitude for those who have served from all generations, and am working on getting an officer commission.

Thank you for your service.

caitmac2 karma

Korea: 1st Platoon Charlie Company, 1st BN., 1st Marines

Vietnam 1st tour: Security Officer Chu Lai.

Vietnam 2nd tour: HQMACV, G2

Edit: "My congratulations on the family history you mentioned, and my encouragement in your pursuit of a commission." -Don

ksgbobo1 karma

First, thank you for your service. I'm a history buff and wanted to ask about the enemy in Korea and Vietnam. I know they were both ferocious enemies, but would you say which one is tougher? Koreans, Chinese, Vietnamese? Also, which conflict sucked more? Also, I take it you were a platoon commander in Korea, what was your role in Vietnam?

caitmac2 karma

“I appreciate the thanks, it was my privilege to serve. The toughest were the Chinese. The nastiest were the North Koreans. The most dogged were the Vietnamese. For me, Vietnam. Going away. No definition of 'the enemy.' Incredible misunderstanding by the American public and press.” -Don

As for Vietnam:

“G2 Directorate.” -Don

ksgbobo1 karma

If you care to elaborate, how was your homecoming from Vietnam on the two tours your served compared to your homecoming from Korea?

caitmac1 karma

“My homecoming, on every occasion, was a simple joy. It didn’t depend on public opinion or the culture of the time. It depended on my wife and my children. Everything always has. If you’re a professional military person, you act at the pleasure of the President of the United States. Everything else is marginal.” -Don

MistressHaze1 karma

Good evening sir, thank you so very much for doing this AMA! Your wife seems like one heck of a woman for pushing you to pursue your dreams. Was she an inspiration for any of your characters? And if so, what characteristics from her did you use?

caitmac2 karma

"No, however, everything I did in print reflected her. I'd like to think if there's any humanity in my work, she afforded me that." -Don

MistressHaze1 karma

That reply is one of the sweetest things I've ever read. Your wife is a very lucky woman. Or is it that you are the lucky one?

caitmac2 karma

"Door number two." -Don

bozobozo1 karma

What is your favorite dinosaur?

Also: OORAH, SIR! ! ! ! !

caitmac2 karma

"I haven't thought about it a hell of a lot, but if I had to pick one I'd have to say the Troodon, because of the size if it's brain." -Don

LurkerKurt1 karma

Sorry for being so late, but I have to ask, any chance of another Moondark book?

caitmac1 karma

There isn't one in the works currently, but Don is "tempted." So anything is possible? If the ebook edition takes off then the odds will definitely improve.

Gewehr981 karma

First off, I want to thank you for your service.

I am curious, how tough was recruit training back in the day? Was it Full Metal Jacket or was it more like Jack Webb in "The DI?"

caitmac3 karma

"The DI toned it down a bit and Full Metal Jacket dialed it up a bit. So the reality is somewhere in between." -Don

Gewehr982 karma

Could they hit recruits or cuss them out back then?

I've read of the Ribbon Creek incident, what was your opinion of it at the time?

caitmac2 karma

(He laughed) "Legally absolutely not. In plain fact, that's not helpful. It's not necessary and it's not helpful. As for the Ribbon Creek incident, it was a tragic accident for two reasons: one the loss of life, and two the utter disregard for the rules that led to that loss of life."

Gewehr981 karma

Does he remember his DI's name?

caitmac1 karma

Don didn't go through boot camp himself, he was a commissioned officer.

Gewehr981 karma

Ohhhhhh. Ok then!

Having handled (I assume) an M1, M14, M16, etc, what was his favorite weapon to use?

caitmac2 karma

"It depends on the circumstances. Either a carbine or a BAR. In the later stages of my career, I leaned more toward a sawed-off shotgun." -Don

Gewehr981 karma

Did you ever have time to look around you and say "Wow, Korea/Vietnam is a really beautiful country (minus the commies)," or were you too busy focusing on the job?

Who are some of the men you served with that you think kids like me (I am 26) should remember?

caitmac1 karma

"Korea has an austere beauty, it's very hot in summer and incredibly cold in winter. Beautiful county, it's called Land of the Morning Calm. Beautiful, if you can get past the stink of the chimney smoke. Vietnam is staggeringly beautiful. It is so pretty. The islands off the north Vietnamese coast, the southern islands, the mountains around Dalat. Gorgeous country. I regretted I couldn't take advantage of it.

I didn't serve with anybody who was famous or anything like that, but I served with men that I'll never forget. Foster, Nuanez, Tuffallerro. Sargent Nuanez was the best squad leader I ever saw, bar none. I didn't serve with anyone famous, but they were outstanding people." -Don

lilkimi1 karma

This is for your Grandpa Have you ever had a chance to meet Ethiopian soldiers in Korea war? If so please tell me ur story about them?

caitmac1 karma

“I know about them, but I never served with them. They had a good reputation, I can tell you that. They had a good reputation for night fighting.” -Don

ndyvsqz1 karma

What were some of the reactions from some marines that served in ww2 when they heard they were being sent to korea to fight?

caitmac1 karma

“Nothing unusual that I’m aware of. Most of our senior NCOs and officers had been through WW2 they just kinda went back to work. I’m not aware of any attitude at all. I know there was some lingering anti-Japanese sentiment for some people. But for most people WW2 was over and the Korean war was a whole new problem. The threat was communism, it wasn’t the Koreans. I saw no deep concern about going back into the pacific theater.” -Don

Noctizzle1 karma

What are your thoughts on the treatment of POW's during the Vietnam War.

Also, in your opinion, are there any POW's still in Vietnam?

caitmac1 karma

“As for remaining POWs in Vietnam, I cannot imagine that there are. As far as the treatment of the POWs during the war, I have been sickened by the fact that the United States government never made any effort to find some justice concerning the people who abused our prisoners.” -Don

boydboyd1 karma

Ugh, I'm so late. OP, if you read this and wouldn't mind asking, I would appreciate it. Just PM me if you'd like. Thanks so much!

For Mr. McQuinn: Semper Fi, brother. I spent 5.5 years in the Marine Corps in the mid-2000s. I'm now a defense contractor and tech writer. I would love to eventually write other things besides technical documentation. What advice would you be willing to impart to me, with no creative writing education, to create like you have created?

caitmac2 karma

“Try to get to a writers group. Decide what genre you want to write in. Read everything you can get your hands on in the genre, i.e. learn from the best.” -Don

cockapples1 karma

Do you have a favorite book that you can pick up and read time and time again?

caitmac2 karma

"There's a half a dozen! From WW2, there was a book called Guadalcanal Diary. I remember it very well. Dean Koontz' Odd Thomas. Another WW2 book, I can't remember the title but I can tell you who wrote it, Eugene Sledge. Something I can read again and I'm almost embarrassed to admit it is Robin Hood. There are so many that if I could find the time I'd probably never read a new one. There are so many good ones." -Don

ManicParroT1 karma

Has he ever read Matterhorn? What did he think?

caitmac1 karma

"I have not, but I will take that as a recommendation." -Don

OldNorseGods1 karma

Sir, did you serve with my father, Raymond Dahl? He served with First Marines in Vietnam. I believe his rank was Master Gunnery Sergeant.

caitmac1 karma

"No [we didn't serve together], but the name rings a bell. We probably knew someone in common. I wish I had known him." -Don

goalieguy871 karma

My father was a Marine during Vietnam. His time in the Marines reflects in his everyday life, even today. What did you take from your time in the Marine Corps? And how has it been applied in your life since your service?

caitmac2 karma

"Discipline. Very possibly the most important thing you can find. Determination.

"Some people think writers should only write something like 4 hours a day. Nobody told me that. Still don't believe it. I do as much as I can. If I can find the time to put in an 8 hour day, I do it.

"Improvisation. You learn if something doesn't work, you better do something else. You figure out how to fix it or what will work, but you adapt. you keep going forward and you adapt." -Don

karmanaut-3 karma

Could you please add some proof of his military service? Thanks.

caitmac3 karma

runefar1 karma

I am sorry to say but in that picture of you in your youth you look a bit narcissistic but now you look super happy and energetic. You also appear to be looking off into the distance do you know what you were looking at?

caitmac3 karma

"I was looking for a way to escape having my picture taken is what I was doing." -Don

karmanaut-5 karma

Just have him hold up a sign that says "Reddit AMA, August 27th" or something and that should be fine, thanks.

caitmac1 karma

karmanaut-6 karma

Ok, thanks. Have a good AMA!

caitmac1 karma


caitmac1 karma

Working on it, please stand by!