Wednesday, December 4, 2019

War-mocker: New Interview in Mount Hope magazine

There’s a new interview with yours truly in the latest issue of Mount Hope magazine, published by Roger Williams University’s Department of English and Creative Writing. My thanks to writer Hannah Little and editor Edward J. Delaney (author of The Big Impossible) for giving me the space to talk about my war novels Fobbit and Brave Deeds. Other topics of discussion: the transition from military to civilian life, James Mustich’s 1,000 Books to Read Before You Die, my second (and current) career with the Bureau of Land Management, the 4:30 a.m. alarm, and my two current works in progress (Happily and Dubble). Here’s how the conversation begins:

Mount Hope:  You’ve described yourself as a “people pleaser” in the past. Did you worry about what your fellow servicemen or colleagues would think of the satirical honesty in your first novel, Fobbit?

David Abrams:  I share the same pre-publication anxieties as most writers: Will readers appreciate what I have to say? Will they love my characters or loathe them? Will the book become a Frisbee that’s tossed across the room in disgust? This is all the needless worry and fretting creators are riddled with when it comes time to publicly unveil the creation.
       In my case, concern, and trepidation about what military members, veterans, and their families—particularly those who’ve lost loved ones in combat—would think about Fobbit was paramount in my mind in the months before it was released. This was a novel that, on the surface, appears to mock all that patriotic Americans hold dear to their hearts. Would they think I was ridiculing or diminishing what they or their families had sacrificed for this country? It kept me awake at night.
       As it turns out, I could have slept peacefully: Fobbit was embraced with open arms by my fellow servicemembers. I was surprised, humbled, and brought to tears on a couple of occasions when people came up to me after readings or emailed me to say how much they appreciated Fobbit and what it had to say. I learned a valuable lesson with that first book: trust your readers to “get it.” They knew I was mocking the bureaucracy of war, not those who were only carrying out their orders in a complex tangle of a war.

MH:  Would you say that writing acts as an outlet of sorts for expressing your frustrations through snark and sarcasm? Such as the parts of Fobbit that show the ridiculous bureaucracy behind each press release, or your short story “Thank You” (if I am remembering the title correctly), which is both funny and heartbreaking.

DA:  Oh, absolutely. Humor is a way for me to vent about issues that frustrate and anger me. Fobbit was a guided missile launched into the sky, aimed toward all the things that tied me in knots during my year in Iraq: the tangle of bureaucratic red tape, the clowns in the White House who never seemed to understand what was happening in the desert, and the blind American patriotism that vigorously waved the flag while glossing over the real questions like why were we there in the first place? I vented and vomited my anger all over the pages of Fobbit while, at the same time, I perfumed it with jokes.
       Don’t get me wrong—the United States did accomplish some good things in that country over the long slog of the war. And while I would never discount the value of the humanitarian projects the military undertook during my time in Iraq (which included building schools, upgrading and providing security for power plants, and repairing infrastructure—which U.S. forces had damaged and destroyed during the invasion-slash-liberation), I would characterize most of our efforts there as one-step-forward-half-a-step-back. It was that disconnect between the way the Fox News anchors seemed to sing The Star-Spangled Banner while reporting the news and what I saw actually taking place on the ground which was the ultimate driving force in writing this novel. One of my favorite quotes from Flannery O’Connor is about how sometimes you have to use “violent” literary ways to get your vision across to a hostile, ignorant, or reluctant audience: “To the hard of hearing you shout, and for the almost blind you draw large and startling figures.” In my case, I loaded those guided missiles with whoopee cushions. It was totally cathartic for me and gave me a sense of comfort knowing that I’d vented my feelings. It just so happened that spew of anger manifested itself as humor.

Read the rest of the interview here

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