If you knock around long enough, you can’t help bumping into a lot of good stories. In my case, it started when my parents had the foresight to raise me in Atlanta during the Civil Rights Revolution, memories of which led to Crackers.
At Duke, I managed to fly under the radar long enough to graduate. Then, this being 1967, it was off to Vietnam to drive a patrol boat on the Saigon River. The things that led to might never have happened if the army had actually trained me to drive a patrol boat, but they did not and, one night, I got blown up and sent home. This led to Where the Rivers Ran Backwards.
In Miami, while I was earning my architect’s license, I worked in an office with Cuban exiles who spent weekends slipping back home and ambushing Cuban soldiers.
When I discovered how unlikely it is to earn a living in architecture, I peeled off the rest of my GI money, attended law school in St Louis, and hung out with first-and-second-generation German immigrants with stories about World War II from the other side. These led to The Girl who Shook Hands with Hitler.
Learning there were no visa requirements to live in Oregon, I migrated to Portland. My experiences as a baby lawyer with some very odd clients on the Oregon coast led to A Fool’s Gold.
A decade later I concluded that, as long as I wasn’t earning much money anyway, I might as well not earn it by writing, arabesqued out of the law and became a full-time writer.
Not long afterwards I met Peggy whom I should have married the first couple of times around, only I didn’t know about her until I was pushing fifty. Several years later the Peace Corps hired her to be Country Director for Botswana.
Together, we bummed around Southern Africa; gossiped at the embassy; hung out with the ambassador from Red China, a couple of presidents (not ours but, given the luck we’ve had in that department lately, a good deal more admirable), the general who commanded our troops in the Bosnia war, Bushmen, Zimbabwe refugees, Afrikaner farmers, a Namibian freedom fighter, a doctor with the former Red Army who’d spent four years in Angola patching up Cuban soldiers, and a sergeant with the former South African army who’d spent the same four years in Angola sending Cuban soldiers to the doctor. This led to The Witchelephant of the Limpopo.
Peggy transferred to Morocco where we spent two-and-a-half years sneaking bacon and Cuban rum home from the embassy commissary, being blasted awake before dawn by muezzins calling us to prayer over very loud loudspeakers, and bumming around North Africa. We hung out with a Libyan rebel, Berbers, Bedouins, a Tuareg or two, an Eritrean freedom fighter, the German expat who owns the whiskey concession for the Bedouins in the Moroccan Sahara and, at a marriage fair in the High Atlas Mountains, ate breakfast with a 12-time World Kickboxing Champion. This led to The Tale of Baghurr the Fox.
Sometime along the way, I got busted for taking photos in front of the National Security Agency, climbed over a wall with Peggy to crash the cremation of a Hindu queen in Bali, watched water buffalos being sacrificed at a funeral on Sulawesi, and attended services for AIDS victims in Botswana. Swam in Lake Malawi, the Tasman Sea, and the Devil’s pool on the lip of Victoria Falls. Climbed Mt Sinai and Table Mountain. Saw Chichen Itza by moonlight, the Nazca Lines, Wadi Rum, Petra, Carthage, Aqaba, the Kasserine Pass, the Mountains of the Moon, Kilimanjaro, Lake Turkana, the rock-hewn churches of Ethiopia, Olduvai Gorge, Ngoro Ngoro Crater, and the Serengeti. Visited the Skeleton Coast. Saw Murchison Falls and flew over Victoria Falls in a microlight. Raised a couple of spectacular kids, sailed the Nile in a felucca. Sailed the waters off Zanzibar in a dhow. Rode a Ferry on Lake Victoria. Climbed the dunes at Sossusvlei. Visited the source of the Blue Nile. Kayaked Glacier Bay, the Bellingshausen Sea off Antarctica, and the Serrano. White-water rafted the Grand Canyon, the White Salmon, the headwaters of the White Nile, and the Futaleufú. Took the train to Marrakech and stood on the corner in Winslow, Arizona, although as far as I know, no girl in a flatbed Ford ever slowed down to take a look at me.