Saturday, 29 November 2014

T. JEFFERSON PARKER "On Writing Warriors"

Full Measure
For the past few years I've been teaching writing to American veterans of war.  Some of these men and women fought in Korea and Vietnam, though most have been in the Middle East.  But wherever they served, a great many of them were moved enough by their experiences to try to get them onto paper -- as fiction, non-fiction, poetry and screenwriting.

I'm especially moved by the troops recently returned from Iraq and Afghanistan.  Because I live in Fallbrook, California, which abuts Camp Pendleton, I've been seeing these men and women deploying from, and returning to Pendleton for years now.  What nails me hardest is how young many of them are.  I've talked to returning combat Marines who are 21 years old!

It's humbling for me to try to help these young men and women get their thoughts down on paper.  I'm not even sure I can.  They've done things I'll never do, and seen things I can only imagine, and here I am trying to help them express themselves through these weird little black squiggles we call words. 

Writing isn't easy and it doesn't come quickly.  And patience is impossible to teach.  But these Writing Warriors have it!  After all they've experienced -- the boredom and terror, the long hours of waiting and the short bursts of mind-bending action -- here they are, sitting in a room thousands of miles away, home no less, trying to get something of it onto paper.

I hope I'm helpful to these servicemen and women.  In my own small way, I'm giving them my all.  And truly, nothing would make me happier than to help mold the next Tim O'Brien or Philip Caputo or Kevin Powers or Phil Klay, and show them what I know about this mysterious art of writing.  I'd love to watch one of them march off into ages, telling us the true stories of how it was.

After all, putting things onto paper is the only thing I really know how to do.  So teaching is my humble way to say thanks.  But I have another "thank you" due to these Writing Warriors.  My next novel, "Full Measure" (published by Sandstone on November 20 in the UK) is about a young Marine Corps fighter who returns from bloody combat in Afghanistan and tries to "fit back in" with a troubled America.  I formed my hero -- Patrick Norris -- from the experiences of these fine men and women I've been teaching and interviewing.  It's not a war novel, it's a coming-home-from war novel. 


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