Q. Is the book anti-war?
Definitely. I wrote Long Before the Next War when I was 23 and recently returned from a combat tour in Vietnam and suffering from the aftermath. When I began to write I opened a floodgate of raw emotions that spilled out onto the page. Having just experienced the reality of war, much of my emotion stemmed from the futility of waging armed combat. The heart of the book is about a soldier facing the reality of seeing friends die for reasons he finds ludicrous and ultimately incomprehensible.
Q. How does he deal with this?
The arc of the book is really the main character deconstructing.
Q. Explain your style of writing–part prose, part poetry.
It represents my thinking process at the time. The style was born of the immediacy of having just spent a year in a war zone, which is ultimately a crazy place. The words landed on the page unfiltered, which represented my jumbled mind at the time. Which is why there is seemingly no rational order. But we didn’t want to lose this feeling because it was my reality. I credit the publisher for shaping the manuscript into a story, such as it is.
Q. What is the history of how your book was published?
At the time my prep school friend David Rottenberg had just had his own novel published by Grove Press. He had a dream of becoming a publisher himself and eventually did. He read my manuscript and wanted it to be his first book, but he said it would take work and was I willing to do it. At the time, I was not willing to go back over the material. My war experience was too raw so I refused.
Q. So you reconnected 45 years later.
That’s right. We got in touch for a prep school reunion and he mentioned he’d recently run into the manuscript and said if I was willing to do the necessary work he said he would help edit it.
Q. At the time you wrote the book there were no personal computers, so was the manuscript typewritten?
Yes. My first job was to key it into the computer.
Q. How long did the editing process take?
More than a year.
Q. The main character, the narrator seems so authentic. Is he you?
Like all fictional characters, he represents part of me. But the book is a work of fiction.
Q. So LBNW is based on a true story.
Some of the incidents happened.
Q. The seminal event is your secret trip into Laos to plant a listening device.
That’s a case of truth being stranger than fiction. I actually went on a similar mission. It happened, but not in the way I wrote it.