Masochism. I write nonfiction as a rule, and it is one thousand times easier than fiction. Because nonfiction does not require the emotional investment, and you can't resort to mere facts to ensure you haven't strayed from certain truths. I've been writing about war for over two decades, and about gender for a good portion of that. But how these two things mix to become twice as volatile is hard to get across in a theoretical or even historical conversation. I wanted to wrestle with these two things through the development of a story. And to use the actual experiences of others and myself to undermine the pernicious myths that perpetuate militarism.
But doesn't war also demonstrate great virtue sometimes, selfless sacrifice and even heroism?
Of course. But the Deepwater Horizon disaster probably produced a few heroes as well. We still have to say it was a disaster. An oil company destroyed a huge expanse of the Gulf of Mexico. And the truth of the matter is, war produces vice, too. It produces more vice than virtue. We need to quit glorifying it. This novel doesn't portray a single crime that doesn't have its analog in actual recent wars.
"Smitten Gate" is like a world tour. You go from the US to Belize to Honduras to Afghanistan, even Somalia. Have you been to all those places?
No. My army career was before the Afghanistan era, and I've been to every country in Central America except Belize. I did work in Honduras, and a half dozen other Latin American countries. And I was deployed to Somalia. I chose Belize as Farah Gillet's home, because one of the paradoxes of hyper-regulated military life is what Gloria Andalzua called mestizaje, a mixed field. The military amalgamates racial and cultural difference, giving it a kind of creolized internal culture. I like creole culture, being an incurable Haiti-phile. I like the way these porous boundaries dislocate us a bit and force us to accept the tension between self-assertion and the need for mutual recognition. And how they contrast with the breakdown of Dale's symbolic boundaries in the book.
You say you will write a sequel to "Smitten Gate." What will it be?
The tentative title is "New Moons and Sabbaths." I like biblical reference titles. "Smitten Gate" is an allusion to the Isaiah quote at the beginning of the book. "New Moons" will take Deangela Dale, the secondary character in this novel, and put her firmly out front, eight years later. So Deangela Dale, a quasi-butch criolla genius, will accidentally fall into a search for the truth about all the things readers know from Smitten Gate, a whodunit wherein she'll be in conflict with several species of malevolent power. If I say more, I will be spoiling both books.
Your main character, Abner Dale, is a Special Forces soldier. Isn't this used a lot nowadays?
Indeed, too much. But this literary trope is usually to show some superhuman dude who mans the dangerous border between civilization and savagery, often by becoming pretty savage himself. It maps onto that most common and unfortunate story convention -- redemptive violence. I wanted to show more closely what these men, these operations, and this field, special operations, are actually like, without the mystique fostered by the military and the entertainment media alike.
Someone might read this story seeking the same kind of sugar-sticky, boy-shit satisfactions they get from the Spec Ops genre, so to speak, but they'll discover something a good deal more sinister and a good deal more true.
What other books have you written, and are you working on anything besides "New Moons and Sabbaths"?
I have one draft at Wipf and Stock, a book on money, called "Mammon's Ecology," and I'm doing another book for Wipf and Stock on violent female leads in film, called "Caeneus." I published "Borderline" (Wipf and Stock) in 2015, about gender, militarism, and church. Prior to that, I wrote a book about my participation in the 1994 invasion of Haiti, called "Hideous Dream." In 2004, I published "Full Spectrum Disorder," about the Bush era and Rumsfeld military doctrine. In 2006, I published "Energy War," about the role of energy in international conflict, as well as "Sex & War," which I've let languish, because "Borderline" did a much more thorough treatment of the same theses.