On the process behind End Game

I’ve discussed the historical background of End Game in a previous essay (July 16, 2012). In this post I’ll just go into my process a bit. The storyline was conceived in the period between 2004-2006 when I was working on the first draft of Death of an Activist. I wrote the first pages that year, and the first section was nearly completed in 2008. I set it aside and came back to it in the summer of 2012. I had years of research behind me, beginning with with NATO’S assault on Serbia in 1999 and going back to the the rise of the American empire following the Second World War.

Despite the fact that all of my work is grounded in history, it is primarily character driven. When I sat down to finish the book, the two main characters, Lazar and his nemesis turned helper, Mehmet, were already well drawn. Lazar, the army officer accused of war crimes is noble, austere, intellectual, rational on the one hand, and a cold, embittered, unloving –a man who has never had the courage to break from his past and live to his full potential, on the other.

Mehmet, is everything earthy, hard-living, scheming, amoral and less than savory, but good hearted underneath it all, as evidenced by his love for helpless animals. He’s Sancho Panza to Lazar’s knight and was, without a doubt, the most fun to write. I adore his initial introduction, tattooed, hungover, and hopeless after a night of debauchery in a whorehouse.

Petar is a Falstafian figure; Nada, Lazar’s longtime partner, is everything loving, good and patient in a woman, which Lazar discovers much too late. Robideaux, the cynical Amerindian journalist, and his feisty girlfriend, Marianne, established in DOA, put the events into perspective, but take on a secondary role in this story, along with Julian Fletcher, the defense attorney, and Adem, an Albanian and the primary witness.

The only main character left, the Chief prosecutor of the ICTY, Marie-Claude Scherer, had to represent the West, the thrust of neo-liberalism into the world theater, ignorance coupled with ruthless ambition and a drive for dominance, the banality of evil, and feminism gone berserk in one bad ass bureaucratic package. I’m certain no matter what our political persuasion, we can find public figures in the political arena to fit the description. However, I wanted to stay away from anyone who is actually known, and used my own worst traits, as well as those belonging to the people who have irritated me most in life, to shape her. She’s a true horror, God love her.

The book itself focuses on the nature of justice in a extremely morally compromised world and indicates where we might be headed as a global society in the future. It’s a fast paced and dramatic read, and I hope the readers will enjoy it.

On Mr Heathcliff’s Fortune & Other Short Stories

There was a three year lull in my writing from 2008 when I finished Death of an Activist, to the time it went to publication, during which many ideas for new books were conceived, tossed about, and either tossed out or outlined and begun.

Mr. Heathcliff’s Fortune, like Meridian, drew its inspiration from Jean Rhys’ Wide Sargasso Sea, which was the tale of the mad wife in the attic in Emily Bronte’s Jane Eyre. But like many, I always preferred her sister’s novel, Wuthering Heights. I was always curious how Heathcliff managed to make his fortune in the three years he was gone from Wuthering Heights. Generally, great fortunes are not made in short time periods, unless malversation is involved.

I conceived such a tale involving women, gambling and slaving in the New Orleans of the 1770’s. Originally it was going to be a novel, lengthy and detailed. I soon realized there was an entire genre of romance fiction centering around gaming. Additionally, without giving the story away, there existed another genre, involving the now passe and clichéd ‘tragedies’ of the light skinned octoroon or quadroon, to use the terminology of yore.

But how to make it interesting and fresh? I decided to write a long short story from multiple perspectives, not involving unreliable narrators but, rather, several narrators who are convinced their truth is the real and only truth.

When I finished Mr. Heathcliff, I had the idea that the rest of the collection would focus on the play of established themes from multiple perspectives, the perception of realities and the melding of realities and fictions.

The Affair features stories within stories, chronicling the impact of a brief love affair by a writer whose style and perception shift subtly over a forty year time period. It’s both a parody of erotica, and an homage to Chekov, Jeremy Brett, and the writers who employed the stream of consciousness technique, the first of whom, was, I believe, not the long forgotten Frenchman who inspired Joyce, but Tolstoy in Anna Karenina. I love The Affair and consider it my finest work to date, but then I’m standing on some pretty wide shoulders.

The Sentimental Imagination is a look at a love triangle in early twentieth century Japan through the prose of a husband and the poetry of his wife. The wife is an embittered creator of tankas, a genre of classical Japanese poetry, and her husband’s prose is a parody of Mishima’s, with a sinister bend that any despised wife will readily recognize. The red peony is a symbol of masculine purity and strength in Japanese culture.

The Edge of the Wilderness is about imagination both as an escape and as a way to process harsh realities. Inspired by the many immigrant women I knew as a girl, refugees from the aftermath of the Second World War, who wanted to begin over again in America by totally forgetting the horrors they had been through – to no avail.

The Cartographer is the story of a Greek boy taken in blood tribute to Topkapi Palace at the height of the Ottoman period, whose life and tale take some unexpected turns. It was inspired by a young friend, who jokingly asked if he would ever be featured in my work. I’m not certain if he’ll be happy with the fact that I made him a eunuch, but sometimes tales also take unexpected turns, and I suspect he’ll enjoy the beauty of the prose and some of the strange twists the story takes.

I’m very happy with the way this collection turned out and like it even more than I do Children of the Sun, my other favorite child.

The Burial chapter 7

I did not become the next Shamanka, I did not become the next leader. I lived in her house alone, with no husband and no children, only the horses, and I thought about the things she had said, and spent many days and nights thinking about them. I did not understand her well. I thought about what my life would have been like if she had not come to our mountains, and I thought about what it would have been like if she had lived. I stayed away from the world of men for a long time, until no one looked in on me, and the people forgot about me. One day, I had the urge to make something from wood. I did not know what it would be, only when I was well along, I realized I would put on the hat of the storyteller and tell her tales, the ones of Hellenes, and of the Seles, of Gotama and of the terrible things I had seen and lived through. The horses had listened to my stories, repeated many times to aid with the remembrance, listened with their ears back, but they were not the ones who needed to hear them, because they were already whole and had their own wisdom.