Air University Press

Mark Clodfelter

  • Published

Author of Between Two Shades of Blue

Mark Clodfelter is a 1977 US Air Force Academy graduate who served in the Air Force for almost 23 years. During that span he twice taught history at the Academy, commanded the Air Force ROTC detachment at the University of North Carolina (UNC), and earned a PhD in American history at UNC. He is the author of The Limits of Air Power: The American Bombing of North Vietnam, Beneficial Bombing: The Progressive Foundations of American Air Power, 1917–1945, and numerous articles and book chapters examining military history and strategy. Between Two Shades of Blue is his first novel.

Between Two Shades of Blue

Paul Glattan, a high school student in rural eastern North Carolina, has an unbridled passion for UNC and its fabled basketball team. When financial concerns dash his dreams of attending the university, he pursues an Air Force Academy appointment and is accepted as a member of the Class of 1977. As he struggles to maintain his Carolina ties, Paul finds the Academy produces more grief than gratification, and only after bonding with his most important instructor, a highly decorated Vietnam veteran—and finding love unexpectedly—does he overcome the anguish and ultimately find redemption.
[Mark Clodfelter / 2022 / no. 275 / Print: 9781585663132 | Digital: 9781585663163 / AU Press Code: B-176]

Q1: You’ve written many highly regarded scholarly works but never fiction. What was the genesis for Between Two Shades of Blue?

I actually began writing the novel 27 years ago when I was the Air Force ROTC detachment commander at UNC. And that was indeed the trigger. My memories of teaching future officers at the Air Force Academy came flooding back, as did my memories of what it was like to be a cadet. Most of the cadets in my detachment were native North Carolinians, and many were from rural backgrounds, which also triggered my memories of what it was like to grow up in rural eastern North Carolina. Yet even though I started writing the book in 1995, I wasn’t able to accomplish much on it until after I retired from teaching at National War College in 2019—virtually all of the writing I did before was nonfiction having deadlines, with much of it focused on military history or strategy. Still, I never forgot the basic storyline that I wanted to commit to paper, and I was thrilled when I finally was able to devote a lot of time to it—without having to complete it by a certain date. That was the only benefit I saw from the isolation caused by Covid—I couldn’t garden, or watch basketball or Netflix all the time, so I received a perfect opportunity to finish my long-term dream.

Q2: Paul Glattan is a well-shaped character—is he autobiographical? If not, how did you create and round out his character to become so believable?

There are a few similarities between him and Mark Clodfelter, but in the final analysis Glattan is a composite figure, with much of him simply made up. And that’s true of all the characters in the novel. To me, that was the real joy of writing fiction as opposed to history. With history, the writer has to be scrupulous in checking facts, especially if he or she wants to make an argument—it must be backed up with evidence, and to make an assertion the writer must have at least two sources to back it up. Not so with fiction. There, the writer creates the evidence to show why a character takes a certain action, and the action only has to be plausible to be believable. That said, I tried to make all of the scenes in Between Two Shades of Blue as factually accurate as I could—my recounting of Basic Cadet Training, USAFA classes, Carolina basketball games, life in rural North Carolina during the 1960s and 1970s, etc., had to be accurate for my fictional tale to be believable—otherwise, why would a reader want to spend time on a story that simply could not have happened? In that regard, the historian in me came to the fore, and I did boatloads of research to make sure that the settings of the novel’s many scenes were spot on.

Q3: Between Two Shades of Blue has been compared favorably with Anton Myrer’s Once an Eagle. Did you have that book in mind as you developed BTSOB?

I loved the novel Once an Eagle when I first read it in high school and was pleased to find it as a reading assignment in the military history 202 core course at the Academy. In fact, I devoted a few paragraphs to it in Between Two Shades of Blue. Sam Damon, the protagonist in Once an Eagle, is an archetype for all that was good in the US Army from World War I through the early stages of Vietnam. I wouldn’t dare say that Paul Glattan was the same for Academy cadets in the mid-1970s, but I would say that Glattan represents the impact that the Academy had on many cadets in the post-Vietnam era, and the emotions triggered by the Academy experience. In Once an Eagle, Sam Damon is a heroic figure; Paul Glattan is certainly not that, and in many respects he’s tragic. But, like Damon, Glattan is persistent, and his dogged determination is likely reflective of most cadets who endured USAFA and went on to have very successful Air Force careers.

Q4: What would you hope a reader gets from Between Two Shades of Blue? Is it mainly enjoyable fiction, a beach read? Or do you hope to convey larger life lessons?

Well, I hope it’s both enjoyable fiction and a decent beach read! Yet I’d also hope it’s a bit more. After completing the novel, I thought that it might resonate with four target audiences: first, graduates of, and current cadets at, service academies; second, individuals wanting to know what service academy life was like before, and immediately after, the arrival of women in the 1970s; third, native North Carolinians, especially those who lived in rural areas of the state in the 1960s/1970s; and finally, college basketball fans, especially fans of Carolina and Coach Dean Smith. I admit it—the language used in my novel is often coarse, but that’s the way it was at USAFA in the mid 70s. In that regard, the book shows how the USAFA experience has evolved during the last half-century; what was considered “acceptable” at that time is no longer the case, and that’s for the better. Yet for anyone examining the impact of the Academy’s “officer training experience” on the Air Force’s future leaders, I think that my novel provides a fair amount of detail on how USAFA molded the Air Force’s officer corps a half-century ago. That said, I think my book offers more than that. Are parts of it disheartening? Sure. Is it a coming-of-age story? No doubt. But I’d also contend that it showcases key elements in a young person’s life that allow the individual to deal with life’s challenges thereafter. As my 1977 classmate Dutch Remkes stated in his back cover blurb, the story “reveals the other ‘Three Rs’ we should learn as we grow: recognition, reconciliation, and redemption.” I concur.

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