So Two Guys Walk Into Afghanistan…
The trouble with this is that one of them doesn’t have a compelling enough reason to walk into Afghanistan. Author Michael Blair pointed this out to me when he was critiquing my novel, In a Country Burning, three years ago at the Bloody Words Mystery Convention. He also suggested I “pump it up a notch” for the first chapter and also speculated that I was too close to this novel and should just give it up and write something new.
Bummer. I hate it when people are right, and I often wish I’d paid attention to all three of his comments. I did pump up the first chapter quite a bit, and comments from Fogel and other readers now describe it with words like “relentless, dizzying and confusing.” Oh well, I can pump it down.
But the motivations: Jackson is a lousy freelance journalist with not much of a career until he gets approached by the CIA, not to spy but just to come in for interviews every time he returns from Afghanistan to tell them what he’s seen. It’s illegal for the CIA to use American journalists for intelligence gathering, but Jackson is a Canadian. In return the CIA co-ordinate with the mujahideen parties to ensure Jackson gets to all the right places in Afghanistan at the right time to ensure he gets the stories he needs to be a successful freelance journalist.
The problem for Jackson is that he has stepped on a slippery slope. He finds himself passing on CIA advice to the muj, and soon pushing them into CIA agenda assaults. He is no longer a journalist but is now a combatant.
Okay, now for the protagonist: Thomas Sutton. His motivation is much weaker. He was a paramedic in the Rochester Fire Department, a committed Christian, and engaged to be married when all that fell apart. He made a surprise visit to his fiance and caught her in bed with another man, a no good loser who’d gone to the same high school.
Sutton is later accused of negligent homicide in the loser’s death. After escaping a guilty verdict, Sutton decides he is guilty and goes to the most dangerous country in the world at the time, Soviet-occupied Afghanistan, seeking God’s punishment for his crime.
Susan summed up the biggest problem with this motivation: whine, whine, whine. Get a gun. Shoot yourself and we’re all done. Get it over with and save us the time.
Which brings me back to Michael Blair. He said, “Look, he needs a better reason to go to Afghanistan. I mean, come on! You didn’t go there just to research this novel.”
Uhm, actually I did. To which Blair replied without skipping a beat, “You’re crazier than I thought.”
Maybe that’s why I have trouble finding a suitable motivation for Sutton: I didn’t need much motivation myself to seek out adventure.