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10 Questions for J. Malcolm Garcia

“Afghanistan was just a name, too. He didn’t know where it was, other than on the other side of the world from his home in Palm Bay, Florida. He looked like every other fucking reservist, did the same drills, felt the same nothingness of each passing nothing day even when he sat with the pilots in his nothingness. Their CO called the dead men heroes but the reservist didn’t see anything heroic in the freakish accident that killed them. They could have died that way at home.” —From "Having Once Served,” Summer 2019 (Vol. 60, Issue 2)


Tell us about one of the first pieces you wrote.
I started out writing fiction and had beginner's luck when my first piece was picked up by The Denver Quarterly. It attracted the attention of literary agents, but I was not ready to write a book. A twenty-year drought followed. I had to immerse myself in “life” as a social worker with homeless people and then later as a reporter. By then, I realized my talent, such as it is, lays mostly in nonfiction that is influenced by the techniques of fiction.

What writer(s) or works have influenced the way you write now?
Southern writers have been a large influence. The lushness of their writing has shown me how environment and tone convey character.

What other professions have you worked in?
Social work, journalism.

What inspired you to write this piece?
I was embedded with the Army’s 82nd Airborne in Kandahar and saw the restlessness of young men who had been pumped up with ideas of killing the enemy, only to find themselves sitting around base doing very little.

Is there a city or place, real or imagined, that influences your writing?
My first trip to Afghanistan in 2001, made a huge impression. That experience influences me. The city of Kabul is like a beacon. I always go back.

Do you have any rituals or traditions that you do in order to write?
Get up early. Have notes, etc. arranged the night before. Then dive in.

Who typically gets the first read of your work?
An editor friend I worked with on the Kansas City Star. He’s a good, hard-nosed editor, and his critiques are very helful.

If you could work in another art form what would it be?

What are you working on currently?
I’m writing a story about a man who forgave the murderer of his daughter. The murderer received a life sentence with no chance for parole. He and the father have been corresponding with each other now for almost twenty years.

What are you reading right now?
I’m between books, so I’m catching up on a stack of The New Yorker.

J. Malcolm Garcia is the author, most recently, of Riding Through Katrina with The Red Baron’s Ghost.

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