Fiction in Name Only

Critics accurately accuse me of passing off fact as fiction. My novels and short stories are invariably about things that really happened. I make them fiction by describing the events as happening to fictional characters rather than to me or real people I knew.

Typical is The Trion Syndrome (Apprentice House, 2015). It is the story of a man suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Injury (PTSI) as a consequence of his time in combat in Vietnam. The source of the story is my own struggle with PTSI, and I attribute to Dave, the protagonist, experiences I went through myself. I filled out Dave’s story with things that never happened to me—his complicity in the death of a child in Vietnam, the existence of an unknown illegitimate son, his running away in an attempt to escape the past—but the details of his malady, including nightmares, panic attacks, flashbacks, and sudden rages, are all based on my own experience.

Secretocracy (Adelaide Books, 2020) is the story of Donald Trump’s persecution of an intelligence budgeteer. The events described actually happened to me, not under Trump but under another president. I was at the time a senior budgeteer assigned to the office of the Director of National Intelligence and refused to fund a highly classified project being pushed by the president on the grounds that it violated both U.S. law and our treaties with other nations. The president was furious and punished me by stripping me of my intelligence clearances and assigning me to a warehouse in Anacostia with no work to do. He didn’t want to fire me outright because I could then sue the government. But I refused to resign. I was stuck without work in an abandoned building in the slums until that president’s term ran out and a new president was elected.

Because of the level of classification of the project in question, I won’t identify the president involved.

Last of the Annamese (Naval Institute Press, 2017), a story set during the fall of Saigon from which I escaped under fire after the North Vietnamese were already in the streets, is all fact. No event described in that book didn’t really happen. But the characters living through that maelstrom are fictional. I describe what happened to me as having happened to others.

Thus my work. Writing fiction drawn from fact may not be the standard for novelists, but it works for me.

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