Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Door Kickers and Moneymakers in Iraq: Fobbit at Electric Literature

I'm a long-time fan of Electric Literature and the recent Recommended Reading series in particular.  From their mission statement: “In this age of distraction, we’re uncovering writing that’s worth slowing down and spending some time with.  And in doing so, we’re giving great writers, literary magazines, and independent presses the recognition (and readership) they deserve.”  I have yet to be disappointed by anything I read at Electric Literature.  The best part about all this great writing?  It's free.  If you know what's good for you, you'll subscribe.  Right now.  I'll wait.

Past authors at Recommended Reading have included A. M. Homes, Patrick Somerville, Steven Millhauser and Mary Gaitskill.  When fellow Iraq War veteran Phil Klay published his short-short “OIF,” I raved about it here at the blog.  So, when my editor at Grove/Atlantic, Peter Blackstock, told me a selection from Fobbit would be featured at EL, I was over the moon with happiness.

That excerpt went live today and it features a portion of a chapter where Staff Sergeant Chance Gooding Jr. is trying to give a heroic soldier a lesson in how to conduct an interview for the news media:

      Kyle Pilley was one of the best moneymakers the division had seen in the past six months and Harkleroad was practically piddling his pants with glee at the thought of all the goodwill his story would buy them in the mainstream media. He was already laying plans for Pilley to be interviewed, via remote satellite, by the Big Three morning-breakfast news shows (Good Morning America was on board, Today and CBS This Morning were teetering on the brink of a yes), not to mention features in the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, and, if Harkleroad was really, really lucky, Time and/or Newsweek. Yes, Kyle Pilley was the best thing to happen to Lieutenant Colonel Eustace Harkleroad and the rest of the Shamrock Division since they’d entered Iraq.
      First, however, Specialist Pilley needed the short course in Media Interview Tips 101, the preparatory briefing the Public Affairs Office liked to give to all soldiers, from colonel to private, before they spoke to major news outlets. A week before Gooding’s Qatar vacation, Harkleroad had given him this task because, he reasoned, the specialist might be more receptive to a lecture coming from an NCO than he would from a lieutenant colonel.
      “The first thing you have to remember,” Gooding told the twenty-year-old infantryman after he’d brought him into his cubicle and sat him down, “is that you are in control of the interview, not the reporter. This is your story and you’re going to tell it in the way that feels most comfortable to you—with a little coaching from us, of course. We’re here to help you smooth it out and make it sound more dramatic for the folks back home.”
      Pilley, a nervous kid with hair the color of bread crusts, wiped his hands on his pants, licked his lips, and croaked, “Sure.”
      “Take your time and don’t just blurt out the first thing that comes into your head.”
      “Okay.” Pilley tried to loosen something in his throat with an abrupt cough.
      “So … just a few questions to start off with.” Gooding went down the list on his clipboard. “Have you ever been convicted of a misdemeanor?”
      “Have you ever been involved in a bitter divorce or a nasty child custody dispute?”
      “Any paternity suits pending?”
      “None that I know of.”
      “Were you ever sent to the principal’s office?”
      “Once, but it was totally not my fault, what they said I did.”
      “Have you ever touched a member of the opposite sex in an inappropriate way so they would have cause to file charges against you?”
      “Hey, what is this, anyway?” Pilley’s eyes flicked around the cubicle, expecting McKnight from his squad to jump out any minute and yell, “Ha! You’ve been punk’d!”
      Gooding waved a not-to-worry hand through the air. “Just trying to shine a light on any shadowy areas of your life. We like to get there before the media does. So, what about it—any inappropriate sexual touching?”
      “No. No way.”
      “Okay, fine. Now, to the matter at hand. Have you ever been interviewed by a member of the mainstream media?”
      “Does my high school newspaper count?”
      “Not exactly.”
      “Then I guess the answer is no. Never talked to no media person before.”

Click here to read the excerpt in its entirety

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