Readers accuse me of writing fiction in name only. I plead guilty. All my stories and novels are drawn from things I have been through myself. My memories cry out for release, especially those of combat, living through the fall of Saigon, and my work with AIDS patients.
A friend counsels me that if I wrote happier stories, I’d have more readers. Probably so. But I don’t write to entertain. I write to vent my soul and to tell people what it’s like to live through ghastly events.
I can’t do otherwise. I’m persuaded that true writers are driven to write. And that drive comes in part from the lives they’ve lived. My life included surviving a war and escaping under fire when a city fell to the enemy. I’m reminded of the words of Jerry Yellin, a World War II veteran now in his nineties who said that “serving my country in time of war was the highpoint of my life.” Serving in Vietnam was the highpoint of mine. It shaped me and shaped my writing.
I volunteered to work with AIDS patients for five years to distract me from my own unspeakable Vietnam memories. It worked, but the experience added new scars as hideous as the ones I was trying to forget. I loved each of the seven guys I took care of and still mourn each death.
Some writers are saddled with indelible recollections of the unspeakable. That dictates their subject matter. I write from the heart. And my heart is troubled. Hence my writing.