A Conversation with MWSA Member & Author J E Stanton

J E Stanton Bio
J E Stanton writes under the pen name of M H Burton


Born 1945 in Freeport IL son of a cheesemaker for Kraft Foods. Kraft closed plant in 1950 and we moved to Chicago. Closed that plant in 1958 and we moved to New Ulm, MN. Amazingly the NU plant is still operating. Graduated from NUHS in 1963. Went off to University of Minnesota in Minneapolis. Five-year course in Engineering. Was midway through Year Four when my friendly Brown County Draft Board informed me that there would be no Year Five. 1967 was a banner year for the Vietnam War. Great need for “warm bodies and human sandbags”.  Considered going to Canada. It wasn’t all that far away.

Took Army’s language aptitude test and scored high. Enlisted for 4 years with Army Security Agency as translator/interpreter. My choice of languages according to recruiter. Asked for Russian and Chinese. Got Laotian.  Basic at Ft. Leonard Wood. Then to the US State Department’s Foreign Service Institute in Arlington VA.  Forty hours a week full immersion, 49 weeks, no English spoken in class, native Lao teachers. The only way to learn one of the toughest foreign languages in the world. Finished at the top of my class of five.

Stationed at Student Detachment barracks next to Pentagon-now beneath Visitors Center of Arlington National Cemetery. Watched 100 blocks of DC burn during 1968 riots. War protest March on Pentagon passed 50 yards from my barracks window. Resurrection City sprang up next to Lincoln Memorial reflecting pool. 24/7 Protests in Lafayette Park across from White House. Interesting times as in the Chinese curse “May you live in interesting times”.

Then off to Thailand. Top Secret Signal Intelligence base called Ramasun Station. Two plus years there monitoring events in Laos. Married a Thai woman. So did many other Lao “Lingies” as we were called. Still married to her. Back to States and unemployment in 1971. Stumbled into computers and stayed there for the next 30 years as Systems Analyst and Software Developer. Retired and began second career as market gardener, stamp dealer, and eventually-writer.

Why did you become an author in the first place?

Wife and I were in her home in “impoverished NE Thailand” during the winter of 2009-10. Small rural village, not a great lot to do. Got tired of reading so I decided to write something. Wrote a short story I called “Decker and the Dragon” about the spook and spy biz at Ramasun. Liked it so I wrote more. “Decker” got published in an anthology of stories by writers over the age of 50 so I decided to combine a bunch of my stories into a book titled “Tales of Ramasun”. Couldn’t find a publisher for it so I published it myself using Amazon’s self-publishing software. Their software was bug-infested crap, but I figured out how to make it work. It’s much better now than it was in 2012. “Tales” was a modest success. Is still selling seven years later and I’m still writing.

When and why did you join MWSA?

2011. Looked at the stories MWSA was putting out and they seemed to be right up my alley. Still read many of them. Sent my “Tales” off from a review and was pleased with the professionalism of the review and the fact that the reviewer had obviously read my book.

Why did you choose to work in this genre?

My first books were all memoirs and short stories. Easy to write. Little or no research involved. Wanted to do a book about the CIA’s Secret War in Laos. I knew quite a bit about it because I’d “covered” it for more than two years. Also knew that I didn’t know anywhere near all there was to know about it so I decided Historical Fiction would be my best bet. Still did a great deal of research. Much harder than writing memoirs but I enjoyed it and learned a lot.

Will you briefly list your other books for us?

In addition to the already mentioned “Tales of Ramasun” two follow-up collections: “Tales of Ramasun II” and “The Ramasun Files”. A borderline pornographic novel about a golf pro “Sherlock” and his sexy Thai Princess “Watson” called “Mixed Foursome”.   And an historical fiction novel set during the Dakota War of 1862 in Minnesota titled “Dacotah Blood”.

Tell us a little bit about this book.

 In June of 1960 Mike Bauer is a naïve idealistic 22-year-old Minnesota farm boy with a freshly-minted Agronomy Degree who wants to do good in the world and have some adventures while doing it.  “Those faraway places with the strange sounding names” are calling him.  He signs on for two years at $75 a month as an agricultural advisor with a missionary society supported by his church and hits the jackpot.  Laos is almost exactly half way around the world from New Germania, Minnesota, can’t get farther away than that.  Xiengkhouang and Naxaithong and Lhat Houang sound exotic enough for you?  Those are just some of the places.  How about the people?  Is Prince-General Phongphasansak Inxixiengmai enough of a mouthful?  Mike gets what he signed up for, and a lot more. Finds himself posted to a mission at Lhat Houang which is in middle of a war his superiors hadn’t told him about-possibly because they didn’t know about it themselves. That’s just beginning of the craziness, danger and adventure.  He soon begins to call Laos “Alice in Wonderland”.  Things just keep getting “curiouser and curiouser” for sixteen years.

But long before those sixteen years are up in 1976 and Mike returns to his native Minnesota he has become “Mysterious Mike”.  A CIA master spy?  An international drug Lord?  The “Lawrence of Laos”?  A bloody-handed war criminal?  An unsung hero?  Or is he just what he says he is, an agricultural advisor to the Hmong mountain people. The brave men and women (and children) who fought so long and hard and skillfully against the Communist takeover of Laos.  They needed much more than advice on how to improve their crops.  They needed help surviving…and in the end they needed help escaping the Communists and finding a new home…in Minnesota.  Mike Bauer did what he could to help them.  With all of that! 

What made you interested in writing a book on this particular topic?

My military background. What I learned about life in rural Thailand and Laos when I was stationed there 1968-71 and in the many extended visits I’ve made there since. What my Thai wife has taught me over the years. What I’ve learned from the many Hmong and Tai Dam and lowland Lao refugees I’m met in Minnesota.

What makes this particular book special to you?

I have always wanted to write something about what I consider to be my “home town” of New Ulm, Minnesota, but had never done it. I was able to put a lot of New Ulm into this book thinly disguised as “New Germania”.