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First Reviews, Then Comes Publication

First-time novelist Charles Sheehan-Miles is working as his own publicist.

The Vienna author is getting ready to send out 50 copies of his self-published Gulf War novel, "Prayer at Rumayla," to newspapers around the country. He will consider the mailing a success if it yields one good review. He has already been reviewed by, among others, Gannett News Service and Pulitzer Prize winner Seymour Hersh.

"The book market is changing," Sheehan-Miles said. "Now there are basically two large publishing conglomerates, when there used to be a lot more mid-size houses. So its been increasingly difficult to break into that."

By securing reviews, Sheehan-Miles hopes to generate an audience for his book, so the larger publishers won't consider the novel an unknown commodity. In the spring he plans to start shopping the book around to literary agents.

In recent years Sheehan-Miles has seen more writers take this back-door route into the book world. Advancements in printing have made it easier for writers to publish their own books. This doesn't mean, though, that every book published has merit, according to Sheehan-Miles.

"The company I went through, there have probably been about 10,000 titles," Sheehan-Miles said. "But I suspect 95 percent of them are junk."

<mh>Between the Pages

<bt>Sheehan-Miles started writing "Prayer at Rumayla" the day he returned home from the Gulf War. He served in the Army as a loader on an Abrams tank, responsible for keeping his tanks guns loaded, for manning a machine gun and for some medic duties. More than anything else, he remembers the noise of battle.

"An M1 tank has a loud engine, a jet engine," He said. "But as loud as it was, we could still hear the rockets going overhead."

Contrary to public opinion, the Gulf War was more than just a series of bombing missions, said Sheehan-Miles.

"The perspective everyone knew was so strongly shaped by the Pentagon and how it played out in the press," He said. "People saw missiles going down the street, around the corner, into a building. It wasn't like that. We had some really up-close, face-to-face combat."

"Prayer at Rumayla" follows the life of a Gulf War veteran as he struggles to re-insert himself in the United States. The main character, Chet Brown, comes home to find his fiancée sleeping with his best friend.

"Its fiction, but all the experiences and emotions are based out of life," said Sheehan-Miles. "Somewhere around 60 or 70 percent of the guys in my company got divorced when they came back from the war. In many cases their wives were with someone else."

He remembers one of the "top guys" he worked with in Desert Storm, a level-headed man before the war. But the war changed him, and when he came back he started beating his wife and children.

"The day we were leaving the chaplain said, 'You guys are going to be really angry. So don't hit your wives,'" said Sheehan-Miles. "That was it. In New York they said they're going to make it mandatory for firefighters and police officers involved in Sept. 11 to get counseling. The army could learn something from that.

"You take these 24- and 25-year-old guys, who've been told all their lives that killing is wrong, then you flip a switch and say now its OK; It messes with your head."

<mh>Coping

<bt>Writing helped Sheehan-Miles deal with the stress he felt following the war, and some of the short stories he wrote following his return became the first couple of chapters in the book.

Both his father and grandfather were in the military, and Sheehan-Miles said he joined the Army because that is "just what you did." Eventually, though, he got out of the Army on conscientious objector status.

"I just couldn't shoot anyone else," he said. Now he works as a computer technical support specialist and is married with two children.

"Prayer at Rumayla" can be purchased on amazon.com and can be special-ordered at any bookstore. More information about the book and its author can be found at www.rumayla.com.