My eyes adjust and I see the convoy in front of me. Four Humvees and two seven-ton trucks. I understand suddenly, and with queasy certainty, why I’m running. I need to warn them about the pressure switch, hidden in a crack in the road. It’s a length of surgical tubing stitched through with copper wire. The driver won’t see it. They don’t have a chance.
The lead Humvee rolls over the crack. The front tire collapses the tubing. Wires touch. Voltage from a hidden battery reaches a length of detonation cord wrapped around artillery shells, buried with jugs of gasoline and soap chips.
I wave my arms, a heartbeat before the whole nasty serpent shrieks to life, and fill my lungs to cry out. And then, like always, I wake up.
–Excerpt from Five and Twenty-Fives.
Late Night Library: Summarize your book in 10 words or fewer.
Michael Pitre: Three men, Iraqi and American, remember the war they shared in the desert.
LNL: If this book were the lovechild of two others, who are its parents?
MP: Catch-22 is the book’s mother, though I think that’s true of all modern war literature. There’s an abiding absurdity to war in the post-industrial age. Yossarian, our loving mother, holds us and whispers, “It’s okay. It’s not just you. It’s always been like this.” The book’s father is The Naked and The Dead. Stern. Full of expectation. Looking at you as if to say, “What? You think you’ve suffered?”
LNL: What ingredients go into the recipe of your writing style?
MP: Like the prison cooking scene in Goodfellas in which Paulie uses a razor to cut paper-thin slices of garlic, I start with the smallest possible details. A single grain of sand carried by the desert wind, hot like a hair-dryer, falls into the gap between your flak jacket and your neck. That single grain of sand, trapped against your skin by Kevlar folds, is like a boulder with a thousand sharp corners. It’s the impossibility of comfort. A single grain of sand can create an entire atmosphere. The roux, as we call it in Louisiana. It’s the sauce on which all the other flavors rest. Only when I’m satisfied that the smallest details have created a tone, a taste, a flavor, do I slide in the plot and its accompanying themes. A bowl of chopped onions. Bittersweet. A pile of beef grillades dredged through flour. Just butcher’s scraps, but substantive and satisfying. Given a second life.
LNL: Name one book you wish you could read again for the first time.
MP: Mr. Midshipman Hornblower, by C.S. Forester. I read it for the first time when I was twelve years old, and I’ve been trying to re-create that feeling ever since. On the first page, young Horatio Hornblower arrives on the deck of HMS Justinian. It’s the winter of 1794. Justinian is moored in a protected anchorage, but poor Hornblower is seasick nonetheless. In the course of ten books, though Hornblower rises improbably to the rank of admiral, he never loses his seasickness. I still find that very reassuring.
LNL: Answer a question you wish people would ask you about writing.
MP: I wish people would ask me if I know what’s going to happen when I sit down to write. The answer is no, not always. My wife is always reminding me, “Inspiration exists, but it has to find you working.”
Get a copy of Five and Twenty-Fives at IndieBound.
Michael Pitre is a graduate of Louisiana State University, where he was a double major in history and creative writing. In 2002, he joined the Marines, deploying twice to Iraq and attaining the rank of Captain before leaving the service in 2010 to get his MBA at Loyola. He lives in New Orleans.