Today, Norm Goldman, Publisher & Editor of Bookpleasures.com is pleased to have as our guest, Bob Swartzel author of Diverting the Buddha.
Good day Bob and thanks for participating in our interview.
Bob, could you tell us something about yourself and what motivated you to write Diverting the Buddha? What do you want your book to do?
During the Vietnam Conflict, I served in the old Imperial city of Hue. During my tour of duty, I witnessed the meteoric rise and subsequent unprecedented fall of a democracy movement led by country’s Buddhist monks. Because the Army unit I worked for provided communication toCIA and State Department personnel, many of its members heard conversations that did not track with official communiqués. This discordance caused misgivings among many of us. These concerns never disappeared in my case.
Over the years, after I stumbled on many pieces of buried information, I decided to write this novel. I hoped it would inform readers as to what the statement “we are from the U.S. Government and we are here to help you with you democracy problem” really means.
Do you believe that you could have written your book just after the Vietnam War? As a follow up, why do you believe there has now been an entire category devoted to Vietnam War novels?
No, too much of what I witnessed and of what happened to the democracy movement was diametrically opposed to everything I believed the United States stood for. It took time, distance, and experience to sort it out.
Did you write Diverting the Buddha from your own experiences and if so, how did you go about weaving them into the plot?
The recounting of the democracy movement is wholly accurate. It faithfully depicts events in Hue as we with boots on the ground experienced them. All the characters and their individual backgrounds are fictitious. The CIA bank, while fictitious, is nonetheless very much in keeping with documented schemes discovered by various Congressional committees. I drew on my experience as a financial services executive in Boston to construct the bank and its characters. The family of the Vietnamese university professor also comes totally from my imagination. My background as a GI Bill student and as Catholic grade and high school student helped me develop the professor and his daughter.
In fiction as well as in non-fiction, writers very often take liberties with their material to tell a good story or make a point. But how much is too much?
I believe the skein and flow of a story dictates what liberties a writer takes. As I mentioned, I took liberties only with the characterizations and none in describing the democracy movement.
What was one of the most surprising things you learned in writing Diverting the Buddha?
I became very fond of Buddhism and found it to be a philosophy that I was quite comfortable incorporating into by life. When I started researching, I knew next to nothing about Buddhist teachings and its adherents’ worldview. What I knew about these topics was that during the Vietnam War the Buddhists appeared to be on the right (as on the side of give democracy a chance). They appeared for a brief shinning moment in time to be standing squarely at the epicentre of the moral high ground that America is always claiming to own.
It is said that writers should write what they know. You clearly know something about the Vietnam War. Were there any elements of the book that forced you to step out of your comfort zone, and if so, how did you approach this part of the writing?
I did not have a clear understanding of what motivated the Buddhist monks. They were able to raise up a democratic firestorm that clearly had the forces who favored letting the Vietnamese military run the government and the war rocked back on their heals.
An enigma to me has always been why from this position of strength, the Buddhist leaders caved in as if a house of cards. It was not until I meet several Buddhist monks in the United States and had long discussions that I began to understand how their philosophy limits their ability to capture the flag. They lead by moral assuagement.
At some point in any struggle, the monks expect their followers to become leaders and to do what needs doing. That mindset was tough for me as a Westerner to get my mind around. It required that I delve deeply and repeatedly into Buddhism to discover what really happened.
Can you tell us how you found representation for your book? Did you pitch it to an agent, or query publishers who would most likely publish this type of book? Any rejections? Did you self-publish?
I did not find an agent who wished to represent the work. I did reach five agents, three from well-known firms, who expressed a strong interest in the novel and who read it. Their conclusions not to represent the work appeared to settle down around it not being the sort of information people wanted to hear about in the post 911 world.
I am hopping that looking at the devastation that U.S. elites created in Vietnam is today relevant to what people wish to discover about how others view American in the post George Bush world.
Are you working on any books/projects that you would like to share with us? (We would love to hear all about them!
I have not decided to pickup my keyboard and charge once more into the breach. I have some ideas on a subject that might be of interest to readers but don’t know yet if I will go forward with them.
How can our readers find out more about you and your endeavors?
I use two WEB tools to promote the book. They are:
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