War Party The Creative Process
Triva Part 2
There is one contradiction within War Party that is there by design. What really happened to Hamid’s brother at the Iraqi hospital? He is told his brother went to visit a friend who was in the hospital and was shot for no reason by the Americans. The FBI claims that the government version is a bit different. It says Hamid’s brother was part of an insurgent group that attacked the hospital and was killing wounded servicemen there. Which is true? More important to me is that no one has ever questioned this contradiction.
There is one scene in the book that comes from my own experience on the reservation. Tommy goes scavenging in an old water channel for more weeds to stuff his dummy U. S. cavalry soldiers. As you can see in the photo (author photo at left) tumble weeds really do pile up there. He is vigilant about watching for rattlesnakes hiding in the brush. Instead he is frightened by a jack rabbit dashing from the packed tumble weeds. I found this old water channel and was trying to get a good picture of the water course when a rabbit burst from the weed pile at my feet. It scared me so badly that I messed up the photo and had to shoot it again. That incident stuck with me strongly enough that it became part of the book.
While this story takes place in a number of locations, including Chicago, Washington, D.C., Toledo, and Cleveland, a large portion of it happens on the Shiwits Indian Reservation in Southern Utah. I can’t say exactly why I chose that location other than having spent time in Utah I knew about the reservation and I wanted a more obscure location for the story. The Shivwits reservation seemed to fill the bill and every time I thought about the book, it kept coming up. In order to get a better feel for the area, I visited the reservation, walking along the Santa Clara River (author photo at left), which comes up repeatedly in the book. I saw the houses, the playground, the burial ground (which I did not enter out of respect), and the rugged terrain. All of them make appearances in War Party.
War Party’s plot came from a combination of ideas and personal interests. I wanted to do something that involved a terrorist plot but I wanted a different kind of attack. I wondered what would happen if terrorists targeted small towns, I mean really small towns where they might kill off the residents and then vanish. Wouldn’t that terrorize America in a whole different way? At first the story was about the FBI chasing clues suggesting such a massacre. Bert initially was the main character, an agent with a knack for putting together obscure information. But, based on my long-time interest in Native American culture and their belief in visions I added a Native American teenage boy who had a vision about an attack near his reservation. What could he do? Still that wasn’t enough to complete the story. There had to be other characters involved. How about a newspaper reporter? Katrina had her side of things to tell. Finally, I wanted to include at least one terrorist viewpoint, but not simply a stereotypical character. I wanted something different. Hamid became the reluctant cell member (more on him below). As the book was written, it was Tommy who took over the story. He grew into the main character and it is Tommy who will be the main character in the next book in the series.
An empathetic terrorist – where did that come from?
In War Party Hamid is a member of the terrorist cell whose mission is to destroy a small town in Utah. He is not a hard line, religious-fanatic terrorist, his hatred is personal. At the same time he has a conscience, plans for a better life and yet joins and goes along with a brutal plan to kill innocent civilians. Are there people like this? Where did that idea come from? Much of what I based Hamid’s character on came from my own junior high school years. Not that I was a terrorist more like a juvenile delinquent, which in some ways isn’t much different. I knew right from wrong, though there were many in the crowd I was hanging with who probably didn’t, and still went along with a lot of stuff that was just plain wrong. Most of my “friends” from that time ended up in jail and now many are dead from drug problems. I got lucky and escaped all that when my father moved us to a new town. As I grew older and looked back on things I saw clearly how peer pressure got me to go along with things I didn’t feel good about. Once you join a group like that it is very difficult to get out. Hamid, despite his love for his girlfriend, had much stronger reasons to participate in the terrorist activities than I had for hanging out with a bunch of criminals in the making. And there were much stronger forces acting on him to stick with the oath he’d taken and remain a member of a group that hardly represented his values, ideals or ethics. As my father always said, “hell is paid with good intentions.” Can’t say what payment is being extracted from Hamid, only that he isn’t the usual black-on-black terrorist.