Friday, June 10, 2011

Frozen in Time

My short story, "That will Spoil his Day," has just been published on Every Day Fiction.  If you have read it, thanks.  Now, with spoilers, here are a few thoughts:

First, writing requires practice.  I got the idea about 20 years ago.  Back then, I didn't have the chops for it.  Oh, it didn't take me 20 years to learn.  I was away from writing for a long time -- too long.  I've been practicing in earnest since about 2007, by which I mean almost every day.  So, if you're reading this, and you have aspirations to write . . . WRITE! 

You cannot successfully or skillfully do that which you have not practiced doing.



Second, some subject matters demand solemnity.  "That will Spoil his Day" is about a casualty of war.  We are in two wars right now.  (Americans and our allies are still in Iraq even if "combat operations" have ended.  People are still dying.)  I am sensitive to that.  I have not been in Iraq or Afghanistan, or any war, but I have known people who have been in them.  I would never want to exploit them. 

Right now, that is exactly what is happening in the entertainment media.  What do I mean by "exploit"?  I mean using the wars as a cheap plot device: think of all of the shows that have a mentally scarred Iraq/Afghanistan vet as the villain on that week's episode, or the "tortured soul; it's a cheap way of gaining pathos.

I tried to avoid cheap sentimentality with "...Day."  Each reader will judge privately whether or not I have succeeded.


Third, some stories take cross-fertilization.  When I first conceived of "...Day", somewhere in the early 1990s, I was inspired by the infamous Pulitzer-prize-winning photograph of the police chief of South Vietnam, Colonel, later General, Nguyen Ngoc Loan, summarily executing a suspected Vietcong in 1968. 

I imagined a story that would be set in Vietnam (named as such), with a young soldier whose face is visible in a photograph of his commanding officer committing a war crime.  Despite his merely incidental appearance in the photo, it follows and haunts him the rest of his life. 

In the real-life event, the photographer, American Eddie Adams, regretted the impact the photo had, saying, "The general killed the Viet Cong; I killed the general with my camera."  In the video below, Adams (who died in 2004) says (around the :44 mark on this particular video) that had he been in Colonel Loan's shoes, "I might have done the same thing."  Amazingly, he visited Loan in the hospital after the other man was wounded, and they had conversations.






Years later, I read the excellent book Flag of our Fathers by James Bradley and Ron Powers.  James Bradley is the son of John "Doc" Bradley, who appeared in the flag-raising photo on Iwo Jima in 1945.  Only three men who were in that famous photo survived the end of the battle itself.  (Mount Suribachi was captured as the first order of business by design; as the highest point on the island, it was the Japanese artillery observation spot.  Once that was captured, the Marines rooted the Japanese up from the rest of the island; three of the six men pictured died doing just that.) 

James Bradley's book was, in part, about the effect that photo had on the three surviving men, and how it followed them the rest of their lives.  Bradley spent years privately researching it, and then professional writer Ron Powers helped shape it into an elegant narrative

John Bradley, the most successful of the three survivors, did so by never talking about it, not even to his family.  Another of the men, Rene Gagnon, thought that his fame could help him financially, but could only find work as a janitor.  He died in his 50s of a heart attack.  Ira Hayes, the Native American of the group, attracted special attention because of that fact.  One of the great things the book does is to reclaim Hayes as a three-dimensional human being.


Flags of Our Fathers (RKPG)


It's a great book.  The movie made from the book, directed by Clint Eastwood, was pretty good, but this is a case where reading the book makes seeing the movie . . . unnecessary.

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