Today is the launch day for my middle-grade novel, Dogtag Summer. It's a wonderful moment, when the characters who've lived in my head get to step out into the real world.

Many, many people helped me with the research -- I had to know about the Vietnam War, about the pacifists at home and those who fought in Vietnam, and the villagers who just tried to survive. I really wanted to know what it was like years later for those who'd been caught in the fighting, or loved people who'd been in the war.

One person I interviewed was Donna Tauscher, who shared memories of her ex-husband's Vietnam was service, how it changed him, their marriage, and the fabric of her life.

I recently did a bookstore appearance and Donna showed up. In her quiet way, she handed me a gift: this small Li Xi, a red lucky money envelope with a 100 đồng note in it. Her husband had brought it back from Vietnam when he returned from the fighting. "I've had it a long time," was all she said as she slipped it into my hand.

What stories this beautiful old 100 đồng note could tell of being passed from hand to hand before it reached mine. And what a tender, cherished gift.