In Proving Ground (Minotaur, June), Blauner’s first novel in 11 years, a veteran of the Iraq War tries to learn more about the murder of his lawyer father, who was suing the FBI on the behalf of a Muslim client.
Some books begin with memories. Some grow out of stories in the press. But Proving Ground started with a garbage bag on a street corner.
I’d been working a TV show, feeling a little restless, all too aware it had been nearly 10 years since I’d last published a book. A couple of experts from the Veterans Administration had stopped by the office to talk to other writers about war and post-traumatic stress disorder. It wasn’t an area I’d ever wanted to delve into. Since I’ve never been in the military and have never seen combat overseas, there was no chance I could compete with the Norman Mailers and Tim O’Briens of the world. But something one of the counselors said, about how, in coming back to “normal society,” the soldier often perceives menace in ordinary things, got my attention, .
As I walked to the subway after the meeting, I saw a white plastic trash bag by a curb. Nothing remarkable about it. Until I imagined seeing it through the eyes of a veteran just back from Afghanistan or Iraq. Then it became an improvised explosive device in disguise, waiting to be detonated.
Maybe other people can write books without those moments. They might be writing about their own experience or drawing from areas they’ve devoted years to studying. But the only expertise I have is in knowing how my characters might perceive reality. So I always try to come up with a very specific point of view. In my last novel, Slipping into Darkness, I wrote about a middle-aged guy beginning life as a free man after being in prison since he was a teenager. In The Intruder, I wrote about bourgeois society from the point of view of a homeless man who’d never been part of it. Yeah, these are crime novels with dead bodies and police work and so on. But without a fresh angle, they’re just the same old stories.
As I made my way around the potentially incendiary Hefty bag, I ran into a friend of mine, a civil rights lawyer. He told me that his kid was working at a prosecutor’s office that summer, which seemed like a small act of rebellion. Still being in the frame of mind of a troubled soldier, I immediately took it a step further. What if you were the son of a well-known activist who decided the way to be your own man was to put on a uniform? And what if something happened to your dad before you’d resolved your differences with him?
By the time I said goodbye to my friend and hopped the F train back to Brooklyn, I knew I finally had a new book to write.