Why I write

I write because I have to.

I knew from the age of six on that I was a writer. I could refuse the calling, but that would mean I’d never find fulfillment or even relief from the constant nag to put what was in my head into words. So I’ve been writing all my life.

As a young man, I went to Vietnam. I was there on and off for 13 years providing signals intelligence support to combat units throughout South Vietnam. I was caught in combat multiple times and watched the soldiers and Marines I was there to help die by my side. After the withdrawal of U.S. forces in 1973, I became the head of the National Security Agency’s covert effort in Vietnam. I lived through the fall of Saigon, escaping under fire after the North Vietnamese were already in the streets of the city.

I suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Injury as a result of the unspeakable things I lived through in Vietnam. Because I held top secret codeword-plus clearances, I couldn’t seek psychiatric help—I would have lost my clearances and therefore my job. So I wrote and wrote about the monstrous events I had lived through. I volunteered to help others worse off than I was. I worked with AIDS patients, the homeless, dying people under hospice care, and sick and dying soldiers in a VA hospital. I found that when my attention was focused on those I wanted to help, my unbearable memories receded. And I learned that compassion heals.

Three of my novels—Friendly Casualties, The Trion Syndrome, and Last of the Annamese—derive from my wartime experience. The fourth, No-Accounts, grew out of my caring for AIDS patients. Lots more to come. I’ve just submitted a fifth novel for publication, and I’m sketching out a sixth. The imperfect peace I’ve found now allows me to write about subjects other than war.

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