David Abrams spent 20 years in the Army as a journalist and public affairs specialists. During his career he served in places as far-flung as Japan, Thailand, Africa, Alaska and the Pentagon. In 2005, he was deployed to Baghdad with the 3rd Infantry Division. While there, he kept a journal that became the basis of his debut novel, “Fobbit.” A fobbit is military slang for a soldier who rarely leaves the safety of a forward operating base, and Abrams’ novel centers on a public affairs specialist, Sgt. Chance Gooding Jr., and his observations about the denizens of Forward Operating Base Triumph. The book made the New York Times Notable Books of 2012 list. His short fiction has appeared in Esquire, Salon and the Missouri Review among others. His short story “Roll Call” is included in the new collection “Fire and Forget: Short Stories From the Long War.” Abrams retired from the Army in 2008. He lives in Butte with his wife and he works as a public affairs specialist with the Bureau of Land Management. He’ll read from his works at 7 p.m. Tuesday at Auntie’s Bookstore, 402 W. Main Ave. He took some time last week to answer a few questions via email.
SR: During your career as a military journalist, were you doing much fiction writing? If not, when did you start writing fiction?
DA: I’ve been writing fiction since I was 4 years old, so yes I was spinning lies for fun and profit all throughout my military career (to clarify: I’m talking about the short stories I wrote in my off-duty time; I was an upstanding truth-telling American while in uniform). Writing fiction – creating characters and planting dialogue in their mouths – is a great de-stresser. And trust me, I had plenty of stress on a daily basis in the Army.
SR: The journals you kept during your deployment in Iraq served as the basis for “Fobbit.” Why did you decide to fictionalize your tale?
DA: When I returned home to the U.S. and looked back at all I’d written over the past year, I realized I had something that was probably only of interest to me, my wife and my parents. The life of an office drone isn’t very action-packed, you know. But there were some occasional patches of weird, off-kilter scenes and scraps of dialogue I’d recorded. They just needed to be embellished for fiction’s sake. But more importantly, turning my war into fiction gave me the license to “go big,” as they say. Once I realized I could tell this story any way that I wanted, I threw down the reins and let the horses of imagination go full-gallop.
SR: It’s pretty impressive to make the New York Times’ Notable Books list with your first novel. Did the critical reaction to the book surprise you?
DA: Oh, hell yeah! In all honesty, I thought I’d publish this novel, it would make some noise in bookstores for a couple of months, then I’d sink back into obscurity, living the quiet life with my wife in Butte. But this experience has gone beyond my wildest dreams. Every day, I feel like Dorothy stepping through the farmhouse door into Technicolor Oz. I never take anything for granted.
SR: So you’ve been working for the BLM since you retired from the Army. Any plans to quit your day job and write full time?
DA: Oh, hell no! Of course it’s the dream of every first-time novelist to stride into his boss’s office on the day of publication and announce, “I’m a big-time writer now, on my way to the New York Times best-seller list, so you can take this job and shove it!” But then we all wake up to reality – which is, there are very few “working writers” in America today. Most of us have to supplement our habit with a regular paycheck. But ask me again tomorrow after I get that six-figure movie deal for “Fobbit.”
SR: What are you working on now and what’s next for you?
DA: My next novel is set in Hollywood in the early 1940s and is told by a 21-year-old little person (he’s not a midget or a dwarf, he’s hypopituitary) who finds work as a stunt double and bodyguard for a child actor who’s been the top box office star for three years running. America loves him. The only trouble is, he’s a spoiled brat. So here we’ve got a basically decent guy who is forced to clean up this kid’s messes – which also include killing the rival studio’s mascot. It would be like Mickey Rooney shooting the MGM lion. The book is full of riding-crop-wielding tyrannical directors, buxom leading ladies, Shakespeare-quoting mobsters, mistaken identities, and there’s a literal cliff-hanger. I’m going over my agent’s notes right now and putting another polish on the manuscript – which may or may not involve writing a completely new last chapter.
Christopher McDougall, New York Times best-selling author of “Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen,” will be in Spokane on April 10 as part of Get Lit!
Among the events planned for McDougall’s visit? A reception, a reading and book signing and a Bloomsday training run.
And the best part? All events are free and open to the public.
The four-mile training run – for all ages and paces – will begin at 6 p.m. at Spokane Community College. A reception will follow the run in the SCC Lair Auditorium, and beginning at 7:30 p.m. McDougall will give a reading, answer questions and sign books.
McDougall’s 2009 book looked at the Tarahumara Indians of northern Mexico who regularly run 100 miles or more without the injuries that often affect distance runners. “Born to Run” spent four months on the Times best-sellers list.
For more information on McDougall’s visit or other Get Lit events, visit www.ewu.edu/getlit.
Post Falls author Elisa Brinton will sign copies of her historical novel “Courage to Stand” on Saturday at the Veradale Hastings, 15312 E. Sprague Ave.
Brinton’s book tells the story of three girls. One decides to disguise herself as a soldier to fight for the Union during the Civil War. Another is an American Indian captured by a rival tribe. The third is crossing the country with her family in search of religious freedom.
Brinton will be at the store from 2 to 4 p.m.