This is a little about me and what’s behind my books. The meat of this is post came from a guest blog post I had the fortune to do on Joe Konrath’s blog in support of Alzheimer’s research.
Take a minute and ask yourself why you write. The real reason, not some fluff answer you have for off the cuff conversations. What, deep down, is your real reason for writing? Don’t tell. Know the reason and embrace it. Let it drive you to write more and more truly. Knowing yourself is tough, accepting that self is even harder.
I write for solace.
After my first tour in Iraq, I was a mess. PTSD was a heavy arm over my shoulders, and I just could not shrug it off. I languished for a long time until my brother made an off the cuff remark about how there wasn’t a good movie about the Red Baron, the WWI fighter ace. I delved into research and found a soldier who suffered as I did. The Red Baron endured his wartime hardships and refused to leave the war, even though he had the chance and plenty of reasons to stop fighting. I wrote a screenplay about the Red Baron and found that the PTSD lessened as I wrote. Why did this work? Damned if I know, but it worked. The script did well in several contests and I had a long talk with a Hollywood producer about the script. Then Flyboys tanked at the box office and the Germans made a movie about that Red Baron. Neither movie was a success and I shelved the script.
Iraq called me back and my second tour was just as miserable and terrible as the first. The war had changed in my absence, and the Army found itself in a moral quandary with our new allies, Iraqis who’d turned on Al Qaeda. The same Iraqis who’d been fighting us. I’ll let you imagine what it’s like to maintain a relationship with someone you know killed your brothers. But we needed those Iraqis on our side to stabilize the country and end the war.
Questions galled me in the years after I returned home: Did the Army sell its soul to win the war? Is there victory without honor? I fought for an answer, and some quietude, as I wrote my first novel, Into Darkness. The experience was cathartic and I had a blast crafting the story. Letting the characters wrestle with the moral ambiguity, instead of slapping a Mary Sue screed onto the page was a challenge, but I want readers to wrestle with the right and wrong of what happens in the novel and make up their own minds.
While I thought Into Darkness would be it’s own thing as a stand alone war novel-it wasn’t. When you write a spy thriller into a war novel, it’s just a spy thriller. The characters from Into Darkness were more than one story could hold. So I kept them around for the Socotra Incident and the forthcoming Debts Called Due.
After Into Darkness was published, the family and I moved to a new job and a new baby came along. Once life settled a bit, the compulsion to write returned. I’m paraphrasing this quote from someone I can’t remember: Readers read to remember a story, writers write to forget a story. Writing isn’t a want anymore, it is a need. And I am just fine with that.
I thought writing a novel about the Red Baron would be easy as I had a script to work from, not so much. The characters became deeper and novel prose is much more involved than a script’s “The plane CRASHES.” I published the Red Baron in December and the sequel to Into Darkness in January.
Where do we go from here? I’m nearly finished with the manuscript for the third Ritter novel. After that, I’ll go back to a story idea I had ten years ago. It still holds up, fantasy novels are like that.
Let’s see what happens.