Welcome to the NEXT BIG THING Blog Hop.
What is a blog hop? Basically, it’s a way for readers to discover authors new to them. On this stop on the blog hop, you’ll find a bit of information on me and one of my books and links to other authors you can explore!
In this blog hop, I and my fellow authors, have answered ten questions about our book or work-in–progress, including behind-the-scenes information about how and why we write–the characters, inspirations, plotting and other choices we make. I hope you enjoy it.
Please feel free to comment and share your thoughts and questions. Here is my Next Big Thing!
Ten Interview Questions for the Next Big Thing
1. What is the working title of your book? The Theater
2. Where did the idea come from for the book? I began publishing articles about the post 9/11 wars before I left academia. It was all I thought about, so when I started writing fiction, there was no other choice. I was most interested in Afghanistan because of the long history of war and resistance in that country. My research took me to Fort Bragg, North Carolina first, where I did extensive research with men and women who served in Afghanistan, both military and civilian, and some Afghan friends, there and in California. During this four-year period, I watched and waited as my partner, an Afghan war veteran and active duty Special Forces operator, deployed repeatedly. It was through this amalgam of research and personal experience that the book took shape, with a female anthropologist, a civilian, reluctantly serving in Afghanistan, forming close friendships with two of her counterparts and falling in love with one of them before things go terribly awry. I’ll let people guess whether it’s the team sergeant or the medic she falls for.
3. What genre does your book come under? It’s character-driven fiction about love and war, but it does have a plot and theme that I hope will be of interest to a broad audience. Several chapters take Montana in country with members of the team, but the book deals largely with the aftermath of war and what happens behind the scenes. I have heard agents use the oxymoron “commercial literary fiction” to describe similar work, or literary page turner.
4. Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?
Fun question. There are 3 primary characters. The men are easier, so they can go first.
Malcolm McCarthy (Mac) is a Special Forces team sergeant that looks and acts more like a diplomat than the bearded tough guy cast in most contemporary war movies. Not that he doesn’t grow a beard while downrange, but he’s well-mannered and subdued, tougher to read than Milton or Proust, and he has a vulnerable side that Montana brings out, in no small part because she asks him questions no one else thinks of. So take a calm-under-any-circumstance Ben Affleck in Argo and give him a British accent and a steamy love affair.
Kelly Woodard is a modern-day Hawkeye Pierce. He’s the funny, outrageously flirtatious team medic, the “glue” of his team. He makes everyone else’s world tolerable, but has a private sadness. He’s irresistibly flawed – too many drinks and cigarettes, not enough food – and manages to sleep with every woman in a ten mile radius without getting into trouble. It’s hard to think of anyone who could play him as well as Alan Alda played Hawkeye. Can you put Paul Rudd in an Army combat uniform in Afghanistan? Ewan McGregor, maybe?
Montana Rivera Rhodes is a smart, driven professional, an anthropology professor who reluctantly agrees to go to Afghanistan to evaluate the failing Human Terrain Program. She’s buttoned up at work but has an adventurous side that is a cover for private wounds and loses. An expert in Afghan culture, she was in Kabul until the moment the US embassy closed under the Taliban in the nineties, and she has an estranged husband she met during that time. Now who would play this character? I rather love Vera Farmiga as Madolyn in The Departed, and as outed CIA agent, Erica Van Doren, in Nothing but the Truth. She has the right combination of toughness and vulnerability.
- Archie Panjabi is perfect for Katera Khan, the Pakistani doctor that is one of Kelly’s lovers.
- Viola Davis would be great for Maya Jones, Montana’s nurse.
- Ash, detachment from MI- Christopher Denham played Mark Lijek in Argo and the SOF nerd/CIA weapon’s expert, Mike Vickers, in Charlie Wilson’s War.
- Viggo Mortensen for Sean Rhodes, Montana’s vanished husband, an SF Master Sergeant turned Paramilitary Operations Officer for the CIA’s Special Activities Division.
- Taheri – Khalid Abdulla from the Kite Runner and The Green Zone could play the military contractor on security detail for Montana’s last mission.
- Captain Mooney – cherry team captain who walks on water, James McAvoy from Atonement.
- Chief Che – old school SF Chief Warrant Officer with a screw loose like Lyn Cassidy, played by George Clooney in The Men Who Stare at Goats.
- Santiago – tough, Puerto Rican commo guy, Benicio del Toro from Traffic.
- That’s less than half of the characters, but I’ll stop there.
5. What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
During the final stages of the Afghan war, reluctant anthropology professor and military intelligence contractor, Montana Rivera Rhodes, is attacked in an isolated village near Khost, causing a chain of events that will change her life and that of her two beloved coworkers forever; as she tries to recall the last moments of her attack from her hospital bed in Germany, a haunting tale of love and loss, of the illusions of war, unfolds.
6: Is your book self-published, published by an independent publisher, or represented by an agency? I am beginning to query agents now.
7: How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript? Forever. ha. I’m meticulous about details and I try to get everything vetted, so it took five years. When my partner was deployed, there were long periods of waiting, where all I could do was try to keep my mind occupied… In the end, all that emotion went into the book. I don’t think the book would be the same without the personal trials and hardship.
8: What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
I have always loved The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje. Many of the events that take place in The Theater are inspired by real life events, unique details from original research, but the book is thoroughly a work of fiction. Still, there are many parallels with The English Patient. The context, characters and time period are different; it’s a different kind of war, but both books show how war brings together people from disparate places, rips them from their lives and families, and throws them in a contact zone where they are irretrievably changed. The characters in my novel go through this kind of upheaval and confrontation. War does that to people. It tests their courage, their capacity for love and survival, their very humanity.
A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain by Robert Olen Butler is breathtaking and compelling. Again, in a different place and time, it captures the divergent and complicated ways in which Vietnamese refugees and immigrants were affected by war. I have family members that served in Vietnam, and family members who are Vietnamese. There are stories in “A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain,” that make me imagine about what it must have been like for them during the war, and what it was like to be separated because of the war, and to eventually immigrate.
Two other books I love are Tim O’Brien‘s, The Things They Carried, and Nadeem Aslam‘s, The Wasted Vigil. The Theater is not primarily a battlefield novel and the characters differ in age and experience from O’Brien’s classic, but the way he excavates the emotional landscape of the young infantry grunts affected me deeply and I have never forgotten that book. Aslam’s haunting tale of five people whose lives collide in post-9/11 Afghanistan came out when I was already drafting my book, but has many similarities to my work and has been an influence and encouragement during the final stages of my process.
Homeland. Okay, this is Showtime and the protagonist is a CIA agent, whereas The Theater works a the edges of the intelligence community, but I do love that Homeland has a woman in a major role, which is more common than people realize. The messiness of relationships is authentic, and more common than the home office likes to admit. Even Nicholas Brody’s capture and release mirrors a section of my book.
9: Who or what inspired you to write this book? I covered this somewhat in question one, but here’s a little more. It took several years, after I was well into drafting the book, to understand my personal connection to my work, even outside of my life with my partner and friends. I have family members who served in the military and government, and I grew up with war widows on both sides of the family. I never knew either of my grandfathers. They both served in World War II and died young, not in combat, but as the indirect consequence of their service – drinking in one case, disease in another. This significantly shaped the course of all of our lives. When the U.S. invaded Afghanistan, my son was in high school and I saw the lives of young people overshadowed by the specter of war. I was teaching at UC San Diego and living in Temecula at the time – San Diego is expensive (the joke among new profs was that only the chancellor can afford to live in the county). Temecula is best known for its wineries, but is situated between five major military bases (Camp Pendleton, Naval Base San Diego, March Air Force Base, Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twenty Nine Palms, and MCAS Miramar). My son’s high school was directly across from an Army, Navy, and Marine recruiting station, and probably half of his classmates were military children with one or both parents deployed. Even for those that didn’t enlist or have parents in the military, war became a part of their consciousness and affected their life paths. To me, this was a microcosm of what we all live to one degree or another when our country is at war. Later, I found myself more closely involved, and my partner was deployed repeatedly, so that’s the story I wanted to tell.
10: What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest? As an anthropologist, Montana is trained to notice things other people do not. She has a unique perspective on Afghanistan and the Pashtun people, as well as the military units she works with and the duties they are called to perform. In the scenes where she is on humanitarian and medcap missions or evaluating the Human Terrain Teams in action, things rarely go as planned. The reality for those on the ground – the “ground truth” – always differs from the mission plan. The Theater focuses on these unexpected twists and what happens behind the scenes. There are some interesting scenes involving new technologies and how that affects both Afghans and Americans. The love scenes and characters are also atypical and people find them intriguing.
It is interesting to me that the program my protagonist was evaluating, the Human Terrain Program, was radically restructured to replace civilian with military workers during the time I was drafting the book, and now, as I begin to query, the Pentagon has just announced the official inclusion of women in combat. This program and military programs like the Army Special Forces “Cultural Engagement Teams,” using women more directly in SF roles, seem to be new. But women have been working in Afghanistan, for the most part in intelligence roles, since the beginning of the war. People just don’t hear about them.
Below you will find authors who will be joining me by blog on Wednesday, February 20. Do be sure to bookmark and add them to your calendars for updates on WIPs and New Releases! Happy Writing and Reading!
Traci Foust – tracifoust.com
Rebecca Johns Trissler - rebeccajohns.com
Karin Davidson – karincdavidson.com
David Raines – rainestorm.com