Monday, May 5, 2014

What and why we write

The title caught me. It contained the word international, as in International Blog Hop.

It came via writers I know only through Facebook, such as JD Rhoades and Elizabeth Lynn Casey aka Laura Bradford.

Blog about writing and pass the pen. No Bogarting allowed.

I like the international thing. I spent 10 years knocking around largely forgotten, yet unforgettable corners of world, like Albania, Slovenia, Moldova, Armenia, Afghanistan, Uganda, the Congo, South Sudan, and Somalia, with a pit stop in Zanzibar and a trek up Mt. Kilimanjaro.

(My wife Dina finally said I had to unpack that carry-on I kept next to the bed. I didn't grumble much.)

Staring at this blank screen, I thought of the writers and journalists I've worked with in far-flung places. They're fearless scribes who face unimaginable difficulties -- the ever-present threat of being killed for broadcasting or writing the wrong thing (aka the truth) about a maniacal president or warlord.

Here in the U.S. the biggest problems are Internet speed, occasional heartburn, and too many choices.

Yet, these writers had a refined sense of beauty and art, and an appreciation of the time it takes to create it -- notions lost in our headlong rush into the digital age.


1) What am I working on?

Fiction. After six books of narrative nonfiction, I've conceded that Americans don't care much for what happens in the next county, let alone on another continent. It's an unfortunate fact even if we have 100,000 troops in a country for more than a decade to fight a nebulous "war on terror."

Never mind that we don't know who the enemy is, what language they speak, or why they hate us.

For international issues to find a place in the American psyche demands delivery by mythological creatures known as super agents. They're typically misfit ex-CIA-turned-contractors or rogues brought back from obscure locales like Uruguay or Monte Negro for one last chance. (Normal people don't live and work in places like that, do they?)

They often have special knowledge and experience of the countries or regions, even if only bits and pieces of that are revealed. No matter, though. They're really good at knocking off the bad guys, who are always potent and plentiful.

2) How does my work differ from others of its genre?

Other than it brings to light global tragedies that compel reconsideration of our role in the world, which no one wants to do?

With my fiction foray, I've deviated from the cop/agent as the central character and substituted a journalist. (Write about something I know, right?) But journalists don't carry guns, even though they're good at digging up dirt and getting into trouble. So, my guy's got a special agent friend with weapons and he knows how to use them.

3) Why do you write what you do?

Nothing is more satisfying than going into a global hot zone, and getting paid to do so, then emerging with the story-behind-the-story. But enough of that. My move toward fiction is explained above.

4) How does my writing process work?

Nonfiction requires organization and preparation: detailed book proposals and sample chapters. Not a lot is left to the imagination, but manuscripts are malleable. Chapters are whacked and others added. Then there's the logistics of finding contacts and meeting sources. I've had the luxury of working in places and at jobs that afforded me time to develop the books on the side. But not always.

For fiction, I like three things: an issue/theme, a beginning, and an end. The rest happens at the keyboard. I start in the morning and don't quit until I have at least 1,000 words. By then I can usually hear a glass of Cabernet calling my name.

We'll see soon enough how the process works, though. My agent specializes in nonfiction. She flinched when I told her I was working on fiction. There's always Amazon.

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