Michael Pitre comes to BEA from Louisiana to promote his first novel, Fives and Twenty-Fives (Bloomsbury, Aug.). Pitre’s editor, Kathy Belden, will be presenting the book at the Hot Fall Titles panel today at 10 p.m. at the Downtown Stage. At 11 a.m., he will be signing in the Bloomsbury booth (1749).
He talks here about his life and the book’s inspiration with PW’s Ruby Cutolo.
“I’m from Louisiana originally and was at LSU when I was moved by great national events to join the Marine Corps. I was a communications officer; I was the guy listening to the infantry on the radio most of the time: It was boring, it was terrifying, it was funny, it was heartbreaking; it was all of life, amplified. I also dealt with the Iraqis, so I had a different perspective than a lot of the other guys.
“When I came back home, I did all the stereotypical stuff: school, marriage. I gained weight, bought a motorcycle. Creative writing was one of my majors in college, but it was a lark, it was for fun. When I was in Iraq, I wrote a column about sports in Iraq for a Chicago weekly, which is how I met my wife. My sister gave Erin a copy of one of my features, and she became my pen pal for seven months. When I came home and met her, I thought, ‘Well, this is happening.’
“My wife made me start writing. She lets me know when I’m off track. It was better for me to write than to go out to the bars for hours and hours. I started the book right after I left active duty, early 2010.
“The book takes place at the beginning of the Arab spring in early 2010, and simultaneously in 2006. There are three narrators: a former Marine lieutenant living in New Orleans, who in Iraq was responsible for filling highway potholes, which is a dangerous job. There’s a former medic, and an Iraqi interpreter. They were all in the same platoon in Iraq, and their lives start to reconnect after the war.
“It’s fiction informed by my experiences. There were two things that Iraqis would never believe: the first was that Americans landed on the moon, and I don’t blame them. We couldn’t even make the water run or get the power on. The second is the notion that you can move to America and become an American.
“This book was very personal. I knew what was going to happen and how it was going to end. What was difficult was being anxious all the time about doing justice to the subject. I’m happy with the way it turned out.
“As far as BEA, I’m nervous! I don’t know what to expect. I’m a real babe in the woods.”