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Author Karen Spears Zacharias coming to Kingsport for book signing, Gold Star monument dedication

Holly Viers • Sep 11, 2017 at 1:30 PM

KINGSPORT — Karen Spears Zacharias was only 9 years old when she got the news that her father had been killed in the Vietnam War.

After years of keeping silent about the war and her father’s death, she learned to open up about her family’s experiences and other topics through writing novels, including “After the Flag has Been Folded” and her latest work, “Christian Bend.”

Though she now lives in Oregon, Zacharias will return to Kingsport later this month on her book tour for “Christian Bend” and will serve as one of the speakers at the Gold Star Families monument dedication.

“I always say Vietnam made me a writer,” she said, “because I had to learn some way to articulate all of that emotion that I was not able to articulate as a child and as a young adult.”

Zacharias was born in Germany when her father was stationed there, though she spent much of her childhood in Hawkins and Sullivan counties where her parents’ family lived. She describes Church Hill, Kingsport, Rogersville and Christian Bend as “the scenes of my youth.”

When her father was deployed to Vietnam, Zacharias and her family moved back to Rogersville from Hawaii, her father’s tour station, in June of 1966. Her father died in the war a month later.

“We were living there (in Rogersville) when we got notified of his death,” Zacharias said. “His funeral took place there at the Andrew Johnson Memorial Cemetery in Greeneville, and my most vivid memories surrounding my father’s death are rooted there in the region.”

In her memoir “After the Flag has Been Folded,” Zacharias describes the aftermath of her father’s death, including the loving response she and her family received from people in East Tennessee.

“All of these decades later,” she said, “I’m still just moved to tears by the respect that those good mountain people showed our family.”

Most recently, Zacharias said she felt inspired to write a book about Christian Bend, where she spent the summer with her great-aunt after her father died. The novel, titled “Christian Bend,” follows a main character with PTSD who receives support from his community.

“I believe that time period I spent at Christian Bend that particular summer was the stuff that turned me into a writer, because my aunt was a tremendous storyteller, as everybody at the Bend was,” Zacharias said. “So all of these years later, I wanted to write a novel that paid tribute to this community that had given me such solace during a very painful time of my life and had shown me so much kindness as a small child.”

Zacharias is currently on tour for “Christian Bend” and will hold a book signing at I Love Books Bookstore in the Fort Henry Mall on Sept. 24 from 2-4 p.m.

The next day, she will serve as one of the guest speakers at the Gold Star Families monument dedication in Kingsport. The monument, which will honor families of U.S. soldiers who died in war, will be located in J. Fred Johnson Park near the existing veterans memorial.

“I have visited most every Vietnam memorial across the country of every place I’ve ever been, but I have yet to go to a place that had a Gold Star memorial,” Zacharias said. “It just seems so right to me that this is happening there in Sullivan County.”

Zacharias said she’s looking forward to revisiting the Kingsport area and sharing her novels with local readers.

“I’m excited to share the story of Christian Bend and the story of the soldiers with the readers, because it is my way of saying thank you to the people who poured into my life when I needed it most.”

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