Why Fiction?

A number of people have urged me to write a book about my experiences in Vietnam, especially during the fall of Saigon. I am a writer by profession, after all, so why not?

One reason is that I’ve already told the Saigon story in a long and detailed article called “Bitter Memories: The Fall of Saigon.” It appeared in the December 2015 issue of Studies in Intelligence, was reprinted in Cryptolog and again in the Atticus Review.  You can read it at  http://atticusreview.org/bitter-memories-the-fall-of-saigon/ When you arrive at the end of the first section, click the “2” to read part two. If you read the article, you’ll see that much of the story I told last month detailing the end of the Vietnam war appeared first in that article.

Other Vietnam experiences, including some I can’t even bring myself to talk about, show up in my other novels and short stories. As one review observed, much of my writing is fiction in name only.

And Last of the Annamese, my most recent novel, documents in detail the fall of Saigon. Although the book is nominally fiction, it is historically accurate and complete, even including some details still classified until 2015.

I wrote Annamese as fiction because I wanted to tell the story of the final collapse from multiple points of view. I couldn’t do that in nonfiction, but in a novel I could recount how the disaster affected five different people, three Americans and two Vietnamese. So I told the story as seen from their eyes. That way, I was able to focus on the decisions each of us had to make at the end—including whether to survive or stay behind to face the victorious North Vietnamese.

And fiction is my genre. I’ve been writing stories since I was six years old. It is mammothly more difficult to write than nonfiction. It requires the writer to inhabit the bodies and souls of other human beings and see life from their perspectives.

And finally, the purpose of fiction, for writers like me, is not to entertain but to instruct. I never state the moral of the story. I leave it to the reader to draw her own conclusions. It works. So many readers have said to me after reading Last of the Annamese that we Americans made so many mistakes in Vietnam. It could have ended differently. By decisions we made through our political leaders and the Congress, we designed our own tragedy.

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