Wendell knew he would be dead in a few seconds, but he didn’t pray. He never thought of heaven or hell or God, because he knew that what had started to happen in that snow was way beyond God’s ability to do much about. Instead, Wendell remembered feeling amazed by how fast a soldier can die, how easy it can be.
A STEEP LEARNING CURVE, which resulted in numerous drafts, as well as the interruptions in the writing of two critically acclaimed non-fiction books, kept getting in the way of Fort Worth writer Tim Madigan’s first novel. Twenty years in the making, Every Common Sight was released in 2015. A well-known scribe for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram for 30 years, Madigan was honored three times as Texas’ reporter of the year. Non-fiction works include: I’m Proud of You: My Friendship with Fred Rogers, published in 2001, and The Burning: Massacre, Destruction and the Tulsa Race Riot of 1921, published in 2006.
“Whenever one of those [projects] came along, I put the novel aside,” Madigan says. “Frankly, I just had to learn how to write good fiction. I studied without any coach or teacher until finally, in the last year or so, I felt like I got it to where it needed to be.”
In 1994, Madigan was reading a story about the 50th anniversary of D-Day that described some horrific situations in combat. He recalls wondering why we heard so much about post-traumatic stress in Vietnam veterans but nothing like that in World War II veterans. “I wondered if there was something about World War II that was less terrible than Vietnam. I learned that World War II veterans tended to deal with their stress,” Madigan says. “They came back to the states and worked so hard that basically they were too tired to dream. They kept the nightmares away. In the mid-1990s, they started to retire, and the war started to come back,” Madigan continues. “Across the country, they started creating PTSD therapy groups for them. These veterans were suffering and struggling.”
Out of this came Every Common Sight’s lead character, Wendell Smith, a hero of the Battle of the Bulge. Wendell brought home to Texas terrible memories of the battlefield, and a secret—one he could not confide even to his wife. It consumes him from the inside out. The character, Claire Cavanaugh, who has a secret of her own, came from Madigan’s many experiences as a journalist, he says. “I was just sitting there writing, and she appeared. I kept wondering if someone had gone through what she had gone through, how that would manifest in later life. Claire just evolved out of the whole writing process and then just kept evolving.”
The novel’s takeaway, Madigan says: “I feel like the book, in a very small way, tells the story of the heroism of the Greatest Generation that really hasn’t been told before but needs to be told.”
Every Common Sight is available online through Amazon and at Barnes and Noble.