2 Nov 2015

Author Interview / Will Everett

More aid workers are killed in Afghanistan than anywhere else in the world – twice as many as the next highest country. These projects are conducted in some of the most dangerous areas by civilian workers with no weapons or training, relying instead on military support. This unusual environment, where improvements are made against incredible human odds, is journalist and aid worker Will Everett’s forthcoming novel, We’ll Live Tomorrow (September 2015).
In an aid compound in southern Afghanistan, under the watchful eyes of the Taliban, We’ll Live Tomorrow follows Hunter Ames, an American grappling with a dark family history and a growing midlife malaise. As he tries to find meaning in the chaos, he meets the mysterious Karimullah, a former bacha bazi or “dancing boy” hunted by his master. These two lost souls strike up an unusual friendship in war-torn Afghanistan – Karimullah looking for sanctuary after years of exploitation at the hands of a violent master, and Hunter trying to come to terms with his own tragic past. But menacing forces surround them, imbuing their friendship with the promise of salvation and the prospect of tragedy.
Many Americans don’t understand why we continue to pump aid money into a country where no appreciable change seems to be in sight,” says Everett. “We’ll Live Tomorrow is coming out at a time when many nations have pulled out of Afghanistan. Many Americans wonder why we’re still there. Through the book, and its layered characters, I hope to give readers a humanistic and intimate look at a country the U.S. has spent so much time supporting, yet at the same time, truly know little about.”
Touted as “a tribute to human tenderness, resilience, and ambiguity in the face of war,” We’ll Live Tomorrow will appeal to readers who:
  • Want a behind-the-scenes look at how expensive American aid projects are conducted in Afghanistan.
  • Are interested in a unique foray into a little-visited corner of Afghan culture.
  • Like the protagonist, face midlife issues and search for meaning
About Will Everett:

As a journalist, Will Everett has reported from the Middle East, South Asia and West Africa for National Public Radio, the BBC, and other outlets. With Walter Cronkite, he wrote and produced the 2006 documentary, The World War One Living History Project, the only media project to honor the last surviving veterans of WWI. His work has been recognized by the Society for Professional Journalists, the New York Festivals, and the National Headliner Awards.

Everett holds a master's degree from the University of Southern California Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. A native of Texas, he currently lives and works in Afghanistan.

We’ll Live Tomorrow is available from Amazon.

1. If you could work with any other author, who would it be and why?
I wouldn’t want to work with any author I admire.  And not just because most of them are dead.  I don’t want to peek behind the curtain and meet the wizard making the magic happen. “Don’t tell me too much,” Henry James used to say when someone started telling him a story that ignited his imagination.  And for me it’s the same with writers.  There’s something wonderfully mysterious about the creative process and you can defile it with too much familiarity.

2. What would be a typical working day for you? When and where do you write?
I’m a seasonal writer.  I don’t write year-round.  I write quickly and aggressively, then break off from it for a few months so I can forget about it. You need to have that built into the process, the forgetting.  It’s good to have multiple projects going, like pots on the stove.  While this one is simmering you move on to another one.  It keeps you from getting creatively stale on any one project.

3. What is the hardest part of the writing for you?
Seeing the work clearly.  Seeing it for what it is and not simply what I want it to be.  We’re all afflicted by the curse of knowledge.  The writer knows the material but can’t see it from the perspective of someone just coming to it for the first time.  Did I explain it well?  Did I say too much, or not enough?  That’s why disconnecting from a work in progress is so important to the process.  There’s no rush. Go work on something else for a while.

It's also hard to know when you've got the right amount of material to get started.  You have an idea and you want to just get on with it, but sometimes you haven't found the idea behind the idea.  I've been keeping an audio diary for years.  I have hundreds and hundreds of little tapes full of ideas.  Sometimes by the end of a long walk I've had multiple Eurekas just because I talked through it.  I'll leave the house full of questions and come home full of answers. People always see me on the street talking into that thing and wonder what the hell I'm doing.  But that's what works for me.

4. When and why did you first start writing?
It happened about the same time as I lost interest in God and religion.  Maybe I wanted to play Creator for a while.  I’ve always been amazed when a writer can make a world come alive by just throwing some words together.  Conrad said something like “my job as a writer is to make you hear, feel and most of all to see.”  I wanted to be the guy who could do that.  And then I found out how hard it was.  It’s not about the words at all, it’s about architecture.  I think Conrad knew that.
5. How did you come up with the idea for We’ll Live Tomorrow?
A writer is always in search of a subject that few people know about, or an unusual twist to an old story. I started working in southern Afghanistan in 2010, a crazy, dangerous time.  I was living in a compound in downtown Kandahar, the only project brave or stupid enough to try to conduct business in that seething environment.  It was profoundly exciting and scary. When people think about the Afghan war they think about the military, but most aren’t aware of the tens of thousands of aid workers who are there too, with no weapons or military training. And of course most of us don’t know a thing about how our taxpayer dollars are being spent over there. I wasn’t out to do an Upton Sinclair on the aid industry, but I felt it was a subject that people needed to know about.

Along the way I became aware of the growing prevalence of
bacha bazi, the practice of warlords and commanders abducting Afghan boys into sexual slavery.  The Afghans I knew were always joking about bacha bazi, but I knew it was a serious problem when I started meeting victims of the practice. And so a secondary character emerged, a young man who had been sold into slavery to a wealthy Kandahar landowner and abused in terrible ways.  This kid comes in contact with Hunter, the aid worker dealing with life issues from his own haunted past.  It’s a novel about the transformative power of love and friendship, and the ambiguity of human sexuality.
6. Are you a big reader? If so, what are you reading now?
I’m reading Gillian Flynn’s
Dark Places.  She’s a guilty pleasure of mine, a real devil.  Another recent discovery is the German writer Bernhard Schlink.  He wrote The Reader, but his short stories are amazing works of minimalist invention.
7. Do you have any advice for other aspiring writers?
Forget about outcomes.  Find validation in other parts of your life. If you’re meant to write, it’ll be its own reward, and the desired outcomes will follow.  But it’s a slow process.  If you’re doing it to become rich and famous, best of luck.

I would also advise writers not to get bogged down in any one form.  I used to think I was only interested in writing fiction, and then found that I had a flair for nonfiction as well.  I didn't think of myself as a poet, but when I was offered a chance to write some lyrics <
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vyt2NpXtMNc> , I jumped at it.  These are all different muscle groups.  You don't want to work out your arms and forget about your legs.