Welcome to Barren Island Books, an interview show in no way related to a popular music-based radio programme. Every Thursday, I will be exiling my latest guest to a remote island with only five books for company, selected from the categories I give them. It’s up to them to make sure they choose wisely, because they’re going to be stuck with these books for a long, long time …
My interviewee this week is Oliver F. Chase, author of the Hirebomber Series (the first of which, appropriately enough for this interview, is Marsh Island). When he's not being banished to a desert island, Oliver can be found at twitter.com/O_Chase_Author and
Oliver, thanks for joining us. First of all, could you please tell us a little bit about yourself – just so we know who it is we’re sending into exile. Illogical fears, unusual birthmarks, whether you’d rather wrestle a bear or punch a shark, that kind of thing.
Exile, huh? In for a penny …
I grew up on military bases throughout the country. Like all boys, we played good guys and bad although I always favoured the good. Coaxing me into an afternoon of baseball or hiking the Southern California hills didn’t take much unless a book grabbed me first. When the time came for the writs of passage, my best buddy Herb and I raised our hands and swore an oath joining a Marine officer’s program before college. Herb soon had his fill of school and decided to get the war over to move on with his life. Six months later, he was dead in a Vietnamese rice paddy.
The Smith Corona portable that I used overseas replaced yellow pads and number two pencils. The Smith and I travelled from Vietnam to grad school, to a teaching stint on the Navajo’s Checkerboard reservation, and to several years with a police department. Somewhere along the way, I joined the FBI, too. Stories were always my release, escape, and sounding board. Sometimes, stories were the only way I could right a wrong. Life is a big damn boat that sometimes just refuses to turn when you want it to. That doesn’t mean any of us should stop pushing. So, I’ve never stopped writing. The Smith was traded for a Zenith, a Mac, and a PC. A hardened Toshiba Satellite goes where I go now and can usually be found at the bottom of my duffle. I’ve written a box full of short stories and a couple novellas. Novels number five and six are called The Hirebomber crime series, published by AEC Stellar. The series includes two books, Marsh Island and Blind Marsh, that star the soldiers and airplanes I’ve known all my life.
Sounds like you've got enough material there for several lifetimes of writing! And what about your own work? What are the inspirations behind it? What would make someone else choose it to accompany them into exile?
I once met Marsh Island’s Phil Pfeiffer in New York City. He was an interesting guy that I never saw again. We spent about ten hours together trying to put together one of those deals New Yorkers know best. I’ve met some of the bad guys, too. Some face to face, some face behind the bars. I never imagined that these guys … and ladies … would take over my books. They forced me to talk about their complexities and used me to write their story. Phil, the most steadfast of characters, fooled me. He was never meant to actually reveal so much of his thoughts and disappointments. Has he never heard of the strong, silent type? Lisa, Maff, and even Kazanchy – someone you’ll meet in Blind Marsh – forced me to give them life when all I really wanted to do was use them and throw them away. Life doesn’t happen like that. You’ll have to judge for yourself but trust me when I say, I’d take them into exile.
Can I return to a question from above? One of my favourite chapters has Phil swimming with the sharks. Since Jaws in the 1970s, everyone is scared of sharks. Heck, sharks are afraid of other sharks. When I wrote this sequence, I recalled my times swimming far beyond the breakers in Hawaii and the Bahamas, floating on top of reefs, and diving on wrecks off San Juan and Key West. I recalled shadows swimming beneath the rollers and big eels eyeing me as I drifted by their lairs. A visit to the shark’s world is pretty sobering and survival isn’t complicated. Sometimes, it’s luck.
Your characters sound wonderful – and it’s good to know I’m not the only one whose characters take over in the face of all my intentions :-) So now let’s move on to the books you’re going to take to the island with you. First up, it’s your favourite childhood book – perhaps the one that got you interested in reading in the first place, or the one you read over and over when you were young. Which will you choose, and why?
Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn … pretty trite, right? But can you find another book with avarice, covetousness, love, truthfulness, friendship … I could go on and on. And all this is wrapped up in an adult adventure.
Next, the book that made the greatest impact on your life. This could be one that inspired you to become a writer, or one that made you look at the world in a whole new way – maybe even one that resulted in real-life romance or adventure.
Youngblood Hawke by Herman Wouk. Many younger writers may not be familiar with this work. A ‘must read’ is to put Mr. Wouk’s work on a par with lesser talent.
Not sure if I count as a younger writer, but I admit I’m not familiar with this book; I will look out for it. For your third book – and you’re probably going to need this one, all alone on a remote island – I’d like you to choose your greatest comfort read. You know, the one you turn to when you’re sad or ill or just need a little pick-me-up.
Give me about fifteen minutes and let me find my Robert Frost Collected Poems, Prose, and Plays. And thanks for the reminder. It’s been decades since I cracked that volume. I loved my nights with that book and always wondered why I didn’t have a date. Let me know when the boat is ready to leave.
Fourthly, it’s your unexpected treasure: a book you didn’t expect to like but did, maybe one outside your usual genre or that you picked up with low expectations but were pleasantly surprised …
You’d better get a bigger boat. While doing some research several years before Google made research a secondary art, I was churning through some documents about Munich in an attempt to find a reference to the time before WWII. I ran across several quotes and found myself checking out a volume of The Second World War by Winston Churchill just to take notes at home. I stopped. No way would I not read (or listen) to the entire set of works … which I did – a couple of times. Something for everyone. Like a kid in a candy store.
Hmm, a little bit of cheating there, methinks – no way you can class Churchill’s multi-volume opus as ‘a book’. But hey, I’ll let you get away with it. And finally, I’d like you to choose your instant classic – the book you think most deserves to be read and reread by future generations. It’s up to you whether this book is already considered a classic or is something more obscure.
For Whom The Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway. Far and away one of the finest books ever written.
Right. We’ll get your chosen books packaged up ready for your journey. Since we’re not completely heartless here at Barren Island Books, we’ll also let you take one song/piece of music, one film and one other item of your choice into exile with you …
Bolero by Ravel - no two listens are ever the same.
The Great Escape with Steve McQueen (real toss-up with Bullitt. The sheer weight of great acting gives Escape the edge).
Item? Okay, here it goes.
“Jane? Honey … we’re going on a little trip. Take suntan lotion. You’re gonna love it.”
Hehe … Jane is in for a surprise. I hope she likes your taste in reading material :-) Now, before we whisk you away, you have one last decision to make: where you want your remote island to be located. You can choose anywhere you like for your exile, in this world or another.
I’d like to go to Marsh Island. The guy who lives there isn’t really a friend, but I understand his house is something to die for.
That’s it, then – you’re ready to go. Thank you for joining us, and enjoy your trip!
If you are an author and would like to take part in a future edition of Barren Island Books, please get in touch with me via the Contact page.