How do you see yourself as a writer? In keeping with the idea that life is absurd in the absence of an explanation approved by all of the appointed authorities, I think of myself as a comic writer, that being what satire is. Not entirely, of course. Factor in the bitterness born of disappointment and the sad truth is that if you scratch a cynic you will find a romantic. So satire is serious even though it wears a clown suit and a putty nose.
I have two books out in the marketplace now. The Great Liars is a roman-à-clef grounded in research about World War II and the attack on Pearl Harbor. Man, I disappeared into that for years.
For example, ask me about Churchill’s The River Wars, the expedition to Egypt to exact vengeance on Muslims who – does this sound familiar? – beheaded a British general on top of slaughtering thousands of others of their own faith. Churchill killed men in battle, including in this expedition. But it was a close run thing, as the English (as they once called themselves) used to say. He had injured a shoulder stepping from a ship to a quay in India and couldn’t swing a saber, so he had bought a German pistol to use instead. It turned out to be a lucky accident. The sword might have been effective in a more smaller encounter, but this was a mass of men hiding in ambush. Firing into the throng trying to unhorse him or to hamstring his mount with their scimitars and lances, he saved his life with the Mauser. I included the details of skirmish after receiving permission from the Churchill literary trust in London.
Reading that now largely forgotten book paid off, but many were the volumes of memoirs, diaries, official papers I drilled into that did not yield anything for The Great Liars.
I didn’t have to do any research for Top Dog apart from living (in the moment, it goes without saying) and observing. There was a lot to observe in San Francisco when I was paid to do it. Who now recalls Jim Jones, one of the many sinister characters peopling the public stage back then? Or the Zebra killers or the other serial murderers who sprang into life in those harrowing times.
Top Dog was my night-time metaphor for what I covered by day. A fantasy was the form necessary to even suggest the foulness of the times. Funny but serious, if you know what I mean.