In case you're not on the Blasted Heath mailing list (and why the hell aren't you? They give you a free book to sign up!), here's a little ditty I wrote for their newsletter:
“THE BOOK THAT SHOULD NOT BE”
This book shouldn’t exist. I gave up on page eighty.
It’s like this: there was once an editor who liked ALL THE YOUNG WARRIORS. He even said he thought if [NAME REDACTED] were not to die in this book, he could see it as the start of a series. And I, being an author of the highest integrity, told him, “Yep, sure, anyone you want to live will live, just name the price.”
Well, he didn’t take the book in the end, and Blasted Heath came calling instead, preferring my original, much better, and much less lucrative ending. So there. ALL THE YOUNG WARRIORS.
That book was a tough cookie to write. The seed of the story came from the story of Somali “lost boys” disappearing from Minneapolis only to end up fighting—and dying—for extremists in Somalia. The problem for me was that in order to write the story as best as possible, I had to figure out what it was like on the ground in Mogadishu…without ever going to Mogadishu. I will say that thanks to modern technology, I was able to research this much faster and in more depth than I would’ve been able to in the “old days.” I never felt one hundred percent comfortable writing those scenes, but in the end, maybe that discomfort and fear was what led to my version of Somalia hitting home with people. Even if it wasn’t “authentic,” it was the right fit for this story.
And, remember, I never intended to write about these characters again, at first.
But I did that thing where, right before I fell asleep at night, I thought about my books and what I wanted to write the next day, and I kept thinking about Mustafa taking back control of the Southside Somali Killaz, the Minneapolis street gang he started and then left to raise his family. They never forgave him, but they still respected him as the “Godfather” of the Killaz.
So why would he come back? What would it take for him to risk his life again after going through hell and back to rescue Adem from half a world away?
I couldn’t get that out of my head. I couldn’t get the dry heat off my skin. I couldn’t get the acid-scarred face of Sufia to leave me alone when I closed my eyes. I had to find out what happened to all of them—including the infamous pirate negotiator Mr. Mohammed.
It was urgent. The voice was there. The situations were there. The characters were there. But me? I froze up on page eighty and flailed around for a bit. I showed it to my agent at the time, but he never got back to me on it [Update: yeah, I don’t have an agent anymore]. I showed it to…I dunno…a few other people. I tried to move on. I went back to the third Lafitte novel, also kind of frozen, and finished that first. I started about four other novels that never really got their hooks into me.
But when I read back through the pages that were to become ONCE A WARRIOR, I got this electric jolt. The energy had been there all along, sizzling like a fallen power line. All I had to do was hook it back up to the power source. And, BOOM, there it was. Mustafa, Adem, Mr. Mohammed, and a whole new cast of characters telling two completely different stories. So what was I supposed to do? Find a way to tie them back together? Abandon one and concentrate on the other?
No, not even close. Tell both stories, follow them to the end, and let them go.
What you read in ONCE A WARRIOR is not the last you’ll hear of Mustafa and Adem. But I dare you to guess where they’re headed next. Back together? Thousands of miles apart? Killing or being killed? I’m waiting for that next jolt so I’ll know…and I can see it coming down the line, all fifty-thousand volts of it.