He's going to talk with us today about his latest book APO 123, a book that deals with his experiences as a former Army JAG officer and In the War Zone
1. Before we start talking about your book, why don’t you tell everybody a little bit about yourself?
I was raised in Brookline, Massachusetts, attended public schools there and went on to Stonehill College and Boston College Law School. For the past 25 years I have been a member of Lefty Salazar & Associates, a local writer’s group whose members have published a number of works of fiction and nonfiction and whose motto is: “We don’t take incoming phone calls!” I served as a first lieutenant in the US Army Judge Advocate General’s Corps during the height of the Cold War. My experiences as a prosecutor in a logistics command, located in rural, historic Verdun, France was the basis for my first novel−APO 123−published with CreateSpace in 2010. 30 years in the making, APO 123 has best been described as a M*A*S*H for lawyers, in the tradition of the characters from the movie and TV series.
My second novel−In The War Zone−an unconventional contemporary love story with a surprise ending−was also published with CreateSpace in February 2012. Unlike APO 123, In The War Zone is not about war - cold or hot - or the military. The title is a metaphor for the mean streets of the Las Vegas gangbanger neighborhood where the protagonist was raised by his single mother. Gibb Quinn’s rise out of poverty to a successful business career as a star computer salesman for the Big Byte Corporation is a quintessential American success story. That is until he is transferred to a small coastal town in New England to rescue a failing retail outfit. It is there that his interest in the town belle sets him on a collision course with the powers that be and the town’s other narrow minded people. One perceptive reader offered the following assessment: “This book has class warfare, a great scene on the rough Atlantic, toughs, and a touching handicapped adolescent. Hits you on several levels.”
After completing my military service, I moved to Washington, D.C. where I was a Trial Attorney at the Federal Trade Commission and then a managing partner at Alston & Bird, a prestigious national corporate law firm, headquartered in Atlanta, Georgia. While practicing in Washington, I served as a member of the President’s Commission on White House Fellowships, before relocating to Las Vegas as president of a bank holding company and vice-chairman of its subsidiary bank. Later I became an entrepreneur and private practitioner. Among my civic activities, I was chairman of the Nevada Humanities Committee; vice chairman of the Governor’s Advisory Council on Education Relating to the Holocaust; a member of the boards of the Nevada Commission on Cultural Affairs, public radio station KNPR and the Federation of State Humanities Councils. (Additional information about my writings and me is available on my Website at www.johnhenrybrebbia.com)
2. Besides writing, what other things do you enjoy in your spare time?
I serve as general counsel for an Irish technology company and enjoy travelling, reading fiction, and watching lots of movies and TV shows.
3. What is your daily routine as far as when you have an idea for your story?
When not otherwise committed, I prefer writing early in the morning and continuing until I tire of it. But I have written at all hours of the day and night. When creating a story, I keep pad and pen handy to make notes whenever ideas come to mind. I have found myself creating story lines and dialog in my head while showering, while walking, while driving, while listening to music and, unfortunately, sometimes even when engaged in conversation with others. The trick is to remember these random thoughts until pen and paper are handy.
4. Where do you get your ideas from?
APO 123 is based on my experiences as an Army JAG officer stationed in Verdun, France during the height of the Cold War when people recognized a commie rat when they saw one. But for my desire to preserve the memories of my unconventional military experience in fictional form for friends and relatives, I doubt that I would ever have become an author.
My second novel – In The War Zone – is a work of pure invention on my part. However, the protagonist’s descriptions of Las Vegas manners and mores are based on my many years of experience living in this unique environment. To most outsider/visitors, Las Vegas is more of a state of mind than a real place where real people live – a mirage-like city rising out of the desert, surrounded by mountains, filled with gorgeous, scantily clad, showgirls and high rollers with call girls clinging to their arms – a place where anything goes. The book offered me the opportunity to weave into the narrative Las Vegas’ reputation as “Sin City” and the attitudes those of us who have lived here for any length of time encounter time and time again when dealing with people from other parts of the country. As for the choice of a Connecticut locale, I learned a lot about the manners and mores of natives in New England small towns while growing up in the Boston area and later when vacationing on Cape Cod. Being from New England, in my experience, it’s tough enough for outsiders to adjust to the provincial attitudes of insular New Englanders from small towns. In the case of people from Las Vegas, especially aggressive salesman like the novel’s protagonist, it is easy to imagine this being an insurmountable burden. In Hollywood-speak, a case of provincialism meets the Vegas connection.
5. Out of all the stories you’ve written, what would be your favorite and why?
In The War Zone is my favorite. From a philosophical point of view, I have always admired and been attracted to/been most impressed by people from the wrong side of the tracks – that have been able to overcome their backgrounds and make it to the top in whatever line of work they choose, without the aid/intervention of “the right connections.” To me this is a more appealing subject matter than dealing with the anxieties of well-educated, more fortunate people, i.e., those who have never had to struggle in order to survive.
6. Tell us something funny about yourself that not a lot of people know about.
While I was a student at Stonehill College, I had dreams of becoming a professional actor. In my senior year, I had the lead role in a play called George Washington Slept Here - about a New York couple that bought a dilapidated farmhouse where it was rumored George Washington once spent the night. I played the part of the husband, Newton Fuller. When Newton’s rich uncle came to visit, he made a royal pain − in the you know what − of himself - all the time complaining – “Newton, I feel a draft.” The more often the uncle repeated this line, the louder the audience laughed. I was just as confused as I was happy – because the actor in me didn't think the line was that funny – but who was I to argue. After the final curtain call, I went down into the auditorium to visit with my 75-year-old Irish grandmother. She unlocked the mystery, when she greeted me with the immortal words – “You're fly is open!” It’s easy to understand why that was my last stage appearance.
7. Are any of the stories you’ve written based on real life experiences or basically just from imagination?
Like a lot of other authors, when writing fiction, I find it difficult not to call on real life experiences, especially when creating true to life – if not larger than life – characters. Fictionalizing characters allows authors free reign to enlarge upon them and mold them to the story’s requirements. In the case of APO 123, I had an overseas Army command full of stereotypes to choose from - a wild bunch of Cold War warriors whose behavior on and off duty made them better suited for employment by a military circus - and Mr. Roberts, Catch-22 and MASH to guide me.
8. Does your ‘muse’ have a name and if so what is his/her name?
To the extent that I have a muse, it is my beautiful wife and editor Trish Brebbia.
9. What other genre besides the one you are writing about now would you like to venture into writing?
I’m also involved in writing screenplays and have two of them in development (adaptations of my short story, Teeth, and In The War Zone), co-written with my son Christian Brebbia, the person slated to direct the TV movie pilot version of APO 123.
10. Who are your favorite authors that are out now?
Ernest Hemingway, hands down. I subscribe to his theory that much of the story resides beneath the surface, making room for the readers to read into the characters actions/motivations what they will. I also subscribe to the use of simple declarative statements, the best and most famous example of this writing style being The Sun Also Rises. Second place would be F. Scott Fitzgerald and The Great Gatsby. Brand me as being stuck in a time warp, if you will. This having been said, obviously, there are a number of more contemporary writers of brilliant fiction. J. M. Coetzee’s Waiting for the Barbarians comes to mind. I have often said that were I able to write the first ten pages of that novel, I could die in peace.
11. Who are your favorite female and male characters in your books and why?
My favorite male character is Gibb Quinn, In The War Zone’s protagonist. Perhaps because I’m a sucker for the underdog, especially one from the wrong side of the tracks that has to fight against the powers-that-be. A reluctant hero - type of person in the manner of Rick Blaine in the movie Casablanca.
My favorite female character is In The War Zone’s Sally Kilgore. She’s one of life’s tragic figures. A good time girl who like so many other women in her situation is unable to overcome her background and fall’s victim to her biker-drug dealer and to drugs.
12. What do you think is the hardest thing about being a writer?
I can only speak about fiction writers. The hardest part is the often times agonizing rewrite process and knowing when to stop.
13. What advice would you give someone who wants to start off being a writer?
Again. In the case of writers of fiction – have as many of life’s experiences-adventures as possible – get to know people outside your comfort zone and pay close attention to them with both your eyes and ears so that you can successfully create characters that seem/ring true to life. Take criticism in stride and learn from it. Search for greatness and don’t worry about falling short. Keep in mind that there aren’t many Hemingways and F. Scotts around, nor likely to be.
14. If you hadn’t become a writer, what do you think you’d be doing now?
I’ve never left the practice of law and continue to involve myself in entrepreneurial projects.
Well now that we got the question and answer out of the way…..why don’t you tell us about your latest story you have out now?
My latest story out is entitled “Teeth.” Teeth is an 18,868-word short story that I submitted to Glimmer Train Press for inclusion its December 2012 Fiction Open writing contest.
In a nutshell, Teeth is a zany comedy/satire about an orthodontist named Hans Potts and his horse-faced mother, Miriam - a pair of self-righteous bigots that in the 1970s move from ethnically challenged Camden, New Jersey to tiny rural Gumball, Georgia in search of peace and contentment in the Old South existing mostly in their dreams. Instead they manage to incite a war among the KKK, a congregation of black Presbyterians, a moonshining segregationist Sheriff, a corporate raiding party headed by a Jewish Napoleon from Brooklyn, and the U.S. Treasury Department.
My next book will be the sequel to In The War Zone demanded by the women who have written to me about the book’s ending. I’m unable to predict when the sequel will become available.
At this time, in collaboration with a network approved, veteran Hollywood screenwriter and our other team members experienced in movie-TV productions, I am devoting most of my energies to turning APO 123 into a TV movie pilot to be filmed in Verdun, France, beginning with the development of a story “treatment” - and PR video to be uploaded to YouTube, prior to scheduling “pitch” meetings with the TV network programming executives. We have high hopes that the TV movie pilot will get made and will result in an award winning TV series.
APO 123 (ISBN 978-1439270509) – available in paperback from the CreateSpace eStore, from which authors receive the largest share of the purchase price. APO 123 is also available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle versions, and on Barnes & Noble’s NOOK e-reader.
In The War Zone (ISBN 978-1466290945) is available in paperback from the CreateSpace eStore from which author’s receive the largest share of the purchase price. In The War Zone is also available in paperback and Kindle versions from Amazon.com.
“APO 123 is a ‘M*A*S*H for lawyers’ in the comedic-satirical tradition of the famous movie and TV series.”
The news of First Lieutenant Marc Anthony Bertolini’s transfer to France “triggered within him all kinds of erotic phantasies involving women of French parentage. He could say with certainty, taking aim in front of an ancient urinal in the Metz train station while an old hag swept past him with her broom was not one of them. Nor, he thought, was this an auspicious way of introducing him to the famed French culture about which he had heard so many seductive stories.
“To avoid the awful embarrassment this Boston boy now felt in the presence of a woman attendant, he jerked his head around towards the wall, a reflex action causing him to catch himself in his zipper and to exhale the loudest of groans. The old hag responded by circling back alongside him wagging a cautionary finger in his face. At this gesture of utter disrespect for rank, he bolted for the exit leaving the old hag with nothing but a scowl on her face and an empty, outstretched hand.
“No-Hail Caesar-no goddamn tip, sweetheart!” said he over his shoulder.”
In The War Zone
“New England provincialism meets the Vegas connection.”
“Gibb did not go to Bishop Gorman willingly. He hated the idea of being thrown in with a bunch of rich kids and having to leave his boyhood friends behind so that his mother could prove her point. There was also the matter of homework. Gangbangers in his neighborhood were very suspicious of kids who did homework and Gibb had the bruised knuckles to prove it. Worse yet, he lacked the training and the discipline required of his classmates who were driven to succeed at an academic high school. This was the uniformly held view of those faculty members who during his freshman year sent frequent reminders to his mother about his failing grades. Rather than conceding defeat, his mother harassed the Viatorian Brothers into teaching him how to study¾which they did for the love of God¾and he ended up with high marks and a basketball scholarship to the University of Portland and his ticket out of the war zone. This was his mother’s proudest accomplishment and whenever Gibb pictured her saying so to people around her his stomach acids started churning¾churning because those words made him feel forever guilty about all the sacrifices she had made for him.”
Make sure you check out John's webpage at www.johnhenrybrebbia.com