Why and How I Write

I write for a variety of reasons. Any one of them would be sufficient to push me toward writing. Their combination makes writing inescapable.

First of all, I write because I have to. I discovered at age six I was born to write stories. Not writing would invite damnation because I would be refusing to accept my mission.

I tried to escape my fate. Early in life, I tried my hand at other callings. I trained to be a dancer. I took a BA in music because I wanted to compose. I studied acting and theater. I learned foreign languages and became a spy. As it turned out, spying pays well, while writing doesn’t. I had a way to support myself and my family while I wrote.

Another reason I write is that I suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Injury as a result of the combat I went through in Vietnam and from other experiences after 1975 that are still classified. The only way to cope with PTSI is to bring into the conscious mind the unbearable memories and force one’s self to react rationally. That means training the emotions not to overreact. I learned early on that writing down what happened was the best way for me to face my memories. Over time, that led to my novels and short stories.

A third reason to write is to tell people the truth about subjects of great importance to me. I wrote Last of the Annamese because I wanted the American public to understand what really happened during the fall of Saigon. I wrote The Trion Syndrome because I wanted people to know what PTSI is. Friendly Casualties tells the dark side of the Vietnam war. And No-Accounts tells the truth about men dying of AIDS at the height of the crisis.

Reviewers note that my books are fiction in name only—everything in the stories I tell really did happen. I don’t know how to create a tale that isn’t true. Fantasy is not my thing.

More tomorrow.

2 thoughts on “Why and How I Write”

  1. Tom,
    Interesting. CS Lewis wrote, “Readers read to know they are not alone.”
    I believe we writers write for this reason too. Our stories
    are messages we tuck in bottles and cast out to the sea of life. Write on…


  2. Thank you, Rose. Yes, I write in part to let my readers know that they and I are brothers and sisters. I want those who suffer from PTSI to know that I’m in their ranks, too. I want my brothers and sisters who were scarred by Vietnam to know they are not alone. I reach out to the many who were damaged by the AIDS epidemic to let them understand that I’m in their ranks. The worst aspect of unbearable memories of war and disease is the sense that the sufferer is alone. To the degree that I can make people see that we are in this together, my writing is worthwhile.


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