My recent blog posts on Secretocracy raise the question readers often ask me: why do I write fiction. My stories and novels are obviously based on historical (or in the case of Secretocracy current) fact. And yet I tell them in novel or short story form.
The answer is neither simple nor straight-forward. I’ve done a fair amount nonfiction. One example is this blog, begun a year ago last November and now totalling about 164,000 words, nearly twice the number of words in some of my novels. My best-known nonfiction article is the story of the fall of Saigon, first published by Studies in Intelligence, the reprinted in the Atticus Review and the Cryptologic Quarterly. You can read it at http://atticusreview.org/bitter-memories-the-fall-of-saigon/ When you get to the end of part one, you’ll see “Read 1 | 2”. Click on the number 2 to read the second half. And the New York Times published my story of the 1967 battle of Dak To. It’s at : https://www.nytimes.com/2017/11/03/opinion/vietnam-tet-offensive.html?action=click&pgtype=Homepage&clickSource=story-heading&module=opinion-c-col-right-region®ion=opinion-c-col-right-region&WT.nav=opinion-c-col-right-region
But what drives me to write is not the historical facts but the human heart. I care deeply about people, what gives them hope, how they cope with life’s tragedies, what keeps them going in the face of disaster. So I take the factual stories and retell them from different points of view, showing the emotions they bring to the surface.
Some brief examples: No-Accounts deals with the AIDS crisis. The story is told from two points of view: the gay man dying of AIDS and the straight man caring for him and helping him die. The Trion Syndrome is about Post-Traumatic Stress Injury. The book again has two points of view: the Vietnam vet suffering from the disease and his wife. Last of the Annamese details the fall of Saigon. Five different characters (three American, two Vietnamese) tell what happens.
In each case, I could have written about the facts in a journalistic emotionally neutral way. Instead, I stressed the human reaction to events.
To say all this another way, I write fiction because I want to tell the truth in a way nonfiction can’t. I want to teach about the human soul, its depth and beauty, its power and majesty. Nonfiction, properly done, never departs from the measurable and countable facts. I want to bring to life something far more important—the unquantifiable, incalculable side of life, the life of the soul.