B. J. Deming was born in New England, but her favorite places in the US are the Alabama and Oregon. Besides fiction, she enjoys blogging about Earth Science and the American Civil War. Right now she is working on a nonfiction book about the first cat (due in the summer of 2015), as well as her next Jack Murphy book, "The Birchfield Murders" (due in the fall of 2016).
When did you first start writing?
There's really no specific starting point. I've always loved to read, but I guess it was in the 1980s that I first tried my hand at writing newspaper articles. I'd just left college after spending a lot of money to discover that I had an inability to wrap my head around the finer details of geochemistry. That flat out stopped my budding geology career. I wrote a little bit about Earth science for the "Berkshire Eagle" and other local papers in the Eighties, but it didn't pay much and I had to get a "day job." After that, I just sort of fell into writing over the years, never leaving it forever -- mostly nonfiction stuff at first and the occasional short story. You could say that my current career really got started when the Internet became popular. That's been so helpful to me!
What's the story behind your latest book?
That would be "The Soldier And The Monk." Well, I grew up in the Sixties, and Vietnam was a huge thing, of course. When I was in high school they did a point-counterpoint public debate and I took the "pro-war" side and totally froze when it was time for me to speak. It was the first time that I began to realize that there was a lot more involved with Vietnam than mere slogans and political activities, and I just didn't have a clue about the stuff that all the adults were arguing over.
A few years after that, in 1970, I was a SUNY undergraduate, and the Oriental Religions 101 professor assigned us a paper on the principles of Buddhism. I don't know where the idea came from to do it as a story. The Sixties influence was quite strong, and everybody was inventive. Maybe that was it. Anyway, I imagined a Buddhist monk and a US soldier meeting on a battlefield and I typed it up to the point where the soldier was creeping up a grass-covered hill towards a thicket. Then I went blank - I knew something was waiting for him in the thicket, but not what it was.
Fast forward many years, to the 1990s. It was a time of crisis in my life, with my father's death and resurgent repressed memories and lots of other stuff going on. A Vietnam vet over this newfangled Internet thing had helped me through some of that - he knew about PTSD. He got me pointed in helpful directions. I found tremendous solace in Buddhism then, too.
Well, there it was again: Vietnam and Buddhism. For therapy as much as for finishing what had been started so long ago, I decided to finish that story. As I say in the book's forward, the central incident of the tale was inspired by a passage in the old Buddhist text, "The Path of Purification," that I had just read.
The monk was the most challenging character. How can a Western author describe his arc, which is happening on the inside, in an action adventure? How can he interact with a US Army ranger in the Central Highlands of Vietnam in November 1967? There's no common ground whatsoever.
What can a monk do to defuse the situation when a GI, an NVA captain, and a bunch of Viet Cong meet?
He didn't know, either, but he figured it out. That was his arc, and the heart of the story. It flowed pretty easily once that was solved.
Oh, the soldier's first name was originally Michael. I was working on the story in 2007 when Michael P. Murphy was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for what he did in Afghanistan. I wanted to respect that. At about the same time, someone named Jack cheered me up when I was feeling blue.
Voila! The soldier's name then became Jack Murphy.
In November 1967, a traditional Buddhist monk living in South Vietnam’s Central Highlands, faces a moral dilemma after finding a wounded American soldier. Complicating the picture are an angry North Vietnamese Army officer and the presence of nine-year-old Vo, a Down-syndrome child who is the monk’s ward.