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Douglas Volk is the author of The Morpheus Conspiracy, the first installment of a trilogy called The Morpheus Series. (Spenser R. Hasak)
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Swampscott author’s novel was a lifetime in the making

Douglas Volk had a great idea for a book, but he never imagined it would take nearly 37 years to write it.

"The Morpheus Conspiracy," a psychological thriller that came out Nov. 12, posits that the Vietnam War was triggered by a paranormal curse in which a veteran has the power to invade other people's nightmares … with deadly results.

Volk, a 1966 Swampscott High grad, got the idea when he was a student at University of Massachusetts Amherst. Those were the turbulent days of the Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy assassinations, the Kent State shootings and anti-war demonstrations. Richard Nixon was president and the Vietnam War dragged on.

"From 1968 to '74, like many college students, my life was in turmoil. Those were the days of the draft lottery. (My birth date) was number 49. I had a deferment until I graduated in 1970. I had a great job waiting, as a CPA for Arthur Andersen in Boston," said Volk. "It was very real that I could be sent to fight in Vietnam.”

Some of his fellow students lied about health issues and found doctors willing to back up their lies for a price. "I couldn't do that. The best option for me was the Army Reserve, a six-year commitment on weekends and nights, mostly at the South Boston base, and summer camp,” he said.

"I went on active duty on Friday the 13th in November 1970. I went through basic training and infantry training. The kids I was with were all going to Vietnam. It left a lasting impression, especially how mean (the training) was. Kill or be killed. The kids were taught to hate, dehumanize the enemy. I know that many of these kids didn't make it home.

"Every day I followed what was happening in the Vietnam War and what happened to the Vietnam vets when they got home. … People cursed them. They were treated like the enemy, these kids who put their lives on the line for us. It was horrible."

In 1974, post-traumatic stress disorder hit the radar. This mental health condition is triggered by a terrifying event — either experiencing it or witnessing it — and there was finally a name to what caused suffering in many Vietnam vets. Symptoms include recurring nightmares, and that got Douglas Volk thinking about his book more and more.

In "The Morpheus Conspiracy," the book's main character, David Collier, returns home from the battlefields of war, feeling betrayed by his country, his girlfriend and citizens who offer no respect or thanks for his service.

"This combat veteran developed a new form of PTSD that somehow gives him the power to travel in and out of human dreams and kill his victims as they sleep," said Volk, offering a short synopsis. "There's a corrupt VA psychiatrist and a sleep scientist, who struggles to understand and then defeat this paranormal force."

Volk said he started to seriously formulate the story in 1974. He researched dream therapy and spent a few nights at a sleep lab at St. Luke's Medical Center in Chicago, observing patients, many of them veterans, and asking questions.

Volk said he was alone in his car on a rural road in New Hampshire in 1982 when he stopped and shouted, "I'm going to write that (darned) book."

"I honked the horn, and startled a bunch of Holsteins that were standing in a field. I was a financial guy. Numbers and business. When I came up with this book idea, I'd never written a thing. But I was determined. It was like setting a goal to be in the Olympics, totally unrealistic."

He sought advice from a running partner who was a professor of English at the University of Southern Maine. He took writing classes. He got an editor. He'd write when he could steal an hour here and there: 4 a.m. at home, during breaks at his kids' swim meets, over coffee at a nearby diner populated by local characters. "It was difficult. I had two boxes of rewritten pages under my bed, where they sat for awhile. My kids, 10 and 12 at the time, got angry at me. 'Dad. You're always telling us not to quit,' and they'd pull the boxes out from under the bed."

He persevered. In 1992 he got a new editor, who had worked for the Washington Post and Baltimore Sun. He consulted psychiatrists, police detectives, DNA forensic experts and others. "I needed everything to be factual and authentic," he said. "I was never in the military. This was my team of experts." In 1998, he finally came out with the first edition of "The Morpheus Conspiracy" and embarked on a quickie tour of libraries and bookstores from Swampscott to Maine, where he'd read from and, hopefully, sell a few copies.

"I was done. I moved on, but I was never happy with the ending. So that's been redone for this second edition. Two years for that rewrite, nearly 37 years after I got the idea."

The amazing thing? Volk, who through all this worked full-time as CEO of Biddeford, Maine-based family-owner Volk Packaging Corp., has finished two more related books. "The Surgeon's Curse" and "Destiny Returns" complete the "Morpheus" trilogy. "Each took me only five years to write," he said, then smiled. "All they need is one good rewrite." He's hopeful 'Surgeon's Curse" comes out in the spring and book three in the fall.

Reviewers have praised "Morpheus." The president of Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 1044 in Biddeford said the book is "full of horror and suspense … and full of compassion for America's often struggling Vietnam War veterans."

Volk lives in Maine where he and wife of 46 years, Revere native Gail Charak, raised a son and daughter. They have five grandchildren, including 2-year-old twins.

For additional information or to buy a copy, go to www.themorpheusseries.com.

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