> Ripping off the famous Three Dog Night tune to say this.
The first B'con panel I was ever on was about short story writing. I was a nobody, and the thing was chaired by Ed Hoch, who was a big shot who had a story in every issue of Ellery Queen for, like, 40 years or something. Not my sort of thing.
Anyway, one of his questions was about setting, and I went on about how I just write about the places I've lived (at that point, just Mississippi) because I need to know the psychology of the place to really write it well. And Ed went on to say that he once wrote a story about Hong Kong from a guidebook, having never been there, and he still somehow made people who had been to HK think he had. And he was, like, super proud of that.
I was thinking What an idiot. Why bother? What was the point, right?
Fast-forward to 2009, when I heard about the "lost boys"--young Somali men from Minneapolis being recruited to go back to Somalia and fight for the terrorists, without anyone knowing until they were gone--and I thought it would be a great story to have a Somali man and a small town white cop investigate the disappearance of two of these guys, thus unraveling a big Minneapolis scandal, etc. I wrote up a short synop and shipped it to my then agent (now publisher) Allan Guthrie. And the first thing he said? "Not good enough. You've got to show us Somalia."
Well, shit. I mean, for all of the great stuff about the Somali culture and people I've learned about from being in Minnesota--where lots of Somalis have moved to form a really large community in the Twin Cities, and even in smaller towns like mine--the country of Somalia itself was a hell hole. I mean, crazy war with these terrorists just killing people left and right, destroying as much of the country as they could, leveling Mogadishu, beheadings, machetes, riots, and on and on. It was a disaster. And if you could survive that to make it to a boat, let's say, then you might end up highjacked by Somali pirates. So like I said--great people and fascinating culture, but the homeland was a bit...oh...unfriendly at that time.
Anyway, Guthrie wanted me to try it, so I dove into research, biting back the apology I owed Ed Hoch, and tried to figure out what made Somalia tick.
In the end, I don't know if I got it right in All the Young Warriors, but I think I could imagine a day there, based on what I saw and read and listened to. And it was important to see it through another outsider's eyes. Even though Adem was a Somali-American, he was still seeing this land for the first time after eighteen years in America. He was having a similar culture-shock to the one I might have had if I'd gone (at least I hoped it felt that way). Crossing my fingers. And if someone reads the book and thinks, "Nope. He's way off," then I just mark it up to creative license and point out that in a similar way, Hollywood has gotten Mississippi wrong for years. I mean, nearly everyone down there has air conditioning, but if you watched a movie about the South, you'd think we sit around with wimpy ceiling fans and sweating ourselves silly.
Since I'm writing another book about Mustafa and Adem, there's more research out there for me to do. Maybe I'll keep coming closer and closer with every book, then finally make a trip over there only to find out I was way, way off. Until then, thanks, YouTube, for all the help.
And considering the Lafitte novel I just finished, let me say this: "Well, I've never been to prison, but I've watched a lot of TV..."
> And onward...
> I've been really getting into a lot of historical crime novels lately, and quite a few about World War Two and its aftermath (including Child 44 and its sequels), especially set in Germany. I don't know, but the Bernie Gunther books reeled me in, and they've led me to The Killing of Emma Gross, which I've been telling everyone about a lot, and now HHhH, which is heading my way in the mail. I've started watching Foyle's War, too, and I really like it, even though it is--so far--a very quiet show with a quiet lead detective. But maybe it's just this whole mood of mine, being into detective series set in far away places and long ago times, because I've also really gotten into Martin Limon's series about two G.I. cops in Korea during the 70's. Way cool.
I admire these writers because I'm sure it takes a lot of time to do the research into the time period and create a unique world within it, especially when we're dealing with major historical events. I mean, I keep thinking of writing a book set out here in the Minnesota plains in the early 80's, and that's tough enough to fathom, but the 30's? 40's? Kudos, dudes.
> So this week is the last week of the semester (before exam week). And that will conclude my current term as the Director of Creative Writing at Southwest Minnesota State University (check out our cool program). Why? Because I went and got myself elected Chair of the whole English Department. I'm looking forward to the challenges and new duties involved, but for the next couple of months between offices, I plan to be FULL-TIME PULP WRITER MAN! That is, when I'm not wandering around the Midwest. But hey, I've got a Dead Man to write!