An Interview with Y.M. Masson – Author of The Demons of War Trilogy

As a young boy Y. M. Masson (Yves) struggled through four years of hardship under German occupation of Paris until he was liberated by the American Third Army. Twenty years later, after having served in the French army in North Africa during the French-Algerian war, he left France in 1965 for New York City and became a United States citizen in the early seventies. After working as a marketing executive in Corporate America, and then running his own consulting business, Yves turned to the arts. He is an accomplished portrait artist, but he loves to share his life experiences with his readers. He knows what war does to people and especially to children. His ability to describe their daily fears, their devastating hunger, and the despair of deprivation draws his audience into their conflict.

Hi Yves. Welcome to Reader Views! Tell us about “The Demons of War” trilogy.

The three books of The Demons of War Trilogy, relate the story of Alain a man who experienced the Second World War as a child in Paris during the occupation by the Germans, then fourteen years later fought as an infantry lieutenant, in the French-Algerian War and finally struggled for years with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

All three books show the impact of war on the minds of all those touched by any conflict, be they innocent victims as Alain was in Paris during WWII, active participant as Alain during his days in North Africa, or survivors harboring the demons of hatred, guilt, and anger that invaded their souls during the atrocities of the conflicts they were part of.

 The first volume When Paris Was Dark, A Boy’s Journey to Survive Nazi-occupied Paris is the story of Alain as a child who had to grow up fast to survive the threats, coercion, and deprivation of WWII in the French capital.

The second book The War Inside his Mind, A Soldier’s battle to Erase the Emotional Trauma of Combat is aboutAlain’s war in Algeria the stress of leading soldiers in combat, and the painful witnessing of atrocities inflicted on civilians.

Finally, Never Give Up, A Man’s Fight to Heal his PTSD relates Alain’s long struggle with post-traumatic stress disorder, and his war memories.

So, what are the demons of war?

They invade one’s being when the war’s daily struggles affect everyone: Struggles against fears, deprivations, violence, and atrocities that children and adults alike have to witness and endure during the conflicts. They are demons because, for some, they vanish when the hostilities end, but for others, they linger in their minds and eat at their souls forever.

Sounds dismal? Not a bit. Readers will be uplifted when they see how creative and resilient children and adults can be.

What inspired you to sit down and write?

Many of my friends were intrigued whenever I mentioned some of my adventures in Paris during WWII, because they were about  a child who experienced war without any real understanding of why there was a war, and why he had to suffer from it, foregoing his childhood from age 5 to age 10. So I wrote When Paris was Dark.

My writing mentor, Joyce Sweeney who has been a Florida Writer of the Year more than once, talked me into writing the second book. It was about the war I participated in and that I had buried deep in my soul and never talked to anyone about. I wrote The War inside his Mind. The writing was wrenching as it brought me back through the combat memories and the images of atrocities committed on innocent civilians, many of them children. But in the long run it helped me make peace with myself.

As I struggled with the dark images of North Africa for years, I wrote Never Give Up, to give other PTSD sufferers hope that there was a way out of it, difficult, painful at times, but a light at the end of a long struggle.

Why tell your story in a fictionalized memoir?

When I wrote the first book, I was advised not to call it a memoir because the memories of a five-year-old child cannot be trusted. I could not verify that my vivid memories were factual because there was no one left who was 15 years older than me, and who could verify my recollection.

It is hard to recollect sequences of events, and true images that have been massaged in one’s mind for years, so calling the stories historical fiction was more comfortable.

Talk about Alain’s character in “When Paris Was Dark.” As a young boy when the war began I imagine he had to grow up quickly. How did living through a war change Alain’s life forever and where did he get his hope from?

Alain was introduced to war by German planes strafing him and his family on the roads southwest of Paris when they fled the invading German troops. Back in Paris occupied by German troops visible everywhere, and faced with intimidating and constantly changing rules, Alain learned fast he needed friends. As his parents were too busy with navigating work and feeding the family, Alain relied on other adults who helped him and formed a strong bond with two schoolmates, Anne and Pierre. They help each other daily throughout the conflict and kept one another’s morale up. The three of them were focused on making it through the war, and stay alive, in spite of near-starvation, German checkpoints and round-ups, and allied raids. That was their mind set, and it worked for them.

.At the end of the war, Anne, Pierre, and Alain were fearless, streetwise and tough. If you did not have a rifle you could not intimidate or scare them. They hated bullies and stood up to them. They had compassion for the victims of war, and somehow did not hate the Germans, because they knew hatred brings war.

In the second book, “The War Inside His Mind,” Alain is drafted into the French-Algerian war so he gets a glimpse of the other side – actually fighting in a war. How does war differ for civilians and soldiers?

Actually Alain got more than a glimpse of war from the soldier’s side. He led his platoon for thirty months in the Northern Sahara and the Atlas Mountains. Because he was in combat, he learned fast how to do his job. The book tries to explain to the reader the unexplainable mind of the soldier exposed to the stress of combat and killings. The role of the soldier is active, that of the civilians passive.

In the final book, “Never Give Up,” Alain deals with PTSD and struggles to adjust to life as a civilian. Can you tell us about some of the ways PTSD manifests for him?

PTSD, one of the Demons of War, is a combination of guilt, hatred, anger, and depression. The images of atrocities stay in the soldier’s mind for years. An event or the sight of an altercation, or a perceived threat can bring the veteran back to a scene of atrocity he lived through during his combat years. Instead of looking at the real event, the soldier, sees, hears, and smells all the elements of what happens years before and reacts as the soldier he was would have years ago, hence creating scenes in his mind over the event in front of him, and then realizing what happened and feeling ashamed for the behavior his friends could not comprehend.

How prevalent is PTSD in soldiers? Does anyone come out unscathed?

The trauma is not erased for years in some, while others manage to control it. The memories are always there, but time and hard work might make the pain go away. That is the central focus of the third book. It shows the way Alain took to achieve inner peace and control his demons.

What kind of feedback have you been getting on your trilogy? Have you heard from any veterans? How have your stories affected them?

I had little feedback from the books which were published at the beginning of the Covid pandemic. One psychiatrist told me that she had two of her veteran patients read them, and praised the effect of the last book on their mental health.

So, what do you enjoy outside of writing?

Since I left the corporate world before age sixty, I turned to the arts and learned to paint from the legendary American artist Ray Everett Kinstler, and enjoyed painting portraits in oil professionally. I also traveled. I was introduced to the Atlas Range in Algeria, where I fought, but I also found peace in soaking in the sights, the colors, sounds, fauna and flora of the hills and of the desert. I fell in love with mountains. I trekked in the Himalayas several times in Nepal and in Bhutan, in the Andes in Peru and in Patagonia. I loved living in Mother Nature’s wilderness, and visiting many countries, learning many different cultures in Europe, the Americas, and Asia. I met incredibly fascinating men, women, and children of other races and nationalities.

I share my knowledge of the ravages of war, and my compassion for all victims. I look at all veterans from combat as my brothers and sisters regardless of the flag they carried when they did, Their blood is the same red, their wounds are as painful, and their agonies as lonely, no matter which uniform they wore.

What do you like to read?

I mainly read history and historical fiction. Obviously fascinated by WWII, which I lived through without understanding it is a large element of my library. But I read about many other conflicts in different countries, in various eras.  As an example, when I visited Cambodia, I learned some of the details on the genocide perpetrated by the Khmer Rouge of Pol Pot in the 70s, and bought fourteen books to try to understand what happened and why. I also read historical fiction, and books about remote quests and communion with nature.

So, what’s next? Do you have another story in the works?

I have a new book which will be published in the next few months. It is a fictional story about a young girl and a soldier struggling with the aftermath of a war, and being a support and inspiration to each other.

Do you have a website or blog (or both) where readers can learn more about you and your works?

I have a website  I am also on Face Book, but as I say I was born in the first half of the last century, so I am not too good at that.

Yves, thank you for joining us today at Reader Views and sharing a bit about yourself and your work!

Thank you.

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