One Year on the Beat

A year ago this week I put Jeff Mutton on the beat.

Assigned to keep America’s diplomats safe in Saudi Arabia, he proved a tough match for tyrants as well as terrorists. He endured vacuous conversations during diplomatic soirees and survived quack psychiatry at the hands of State Department shrinks. He introduced us to a secretive government entity known as Fourth Branch. He helped the man with no lips from the office that wasn’t there collect intell to support the War on Terror, even when there wasn’t any.

Happy birthday, Jeff! Here’s a list of top ten things that haven’t happened in the year since your story was revealed:

10. Two Pumps hasn’t been used as fuel for any book-burnings.
9.   There are no known fatwas on the author’s head.
8.   The story remains uncorrupted by Hollywood.
7.   There are no reports of this book being sold without a cover.
6.   About the cover: Two Pumps‘ only bad review was an insult to the jacket.
5.   About reviews: No 0- or 1-star insults!
4.   Saudi Arabia hasn’t declared the author Persona non-Grata.
3.
2.   The author has avoided slick-road car-wrecks and fan captivity.

And, the #1 thing that hasn’t happened in the year since Mutton’s story was revealed

1. No Oprah Book Club controversies! Thank you, Oprah!

Foreign Service Blogs (II)

Discovering more blogs kept by Foreign Service Officers, old and new, from DC to Bucharest, from cat-lovers to chess masters.

Cross Words

Among the most interesting aspects of this blog is the lack of a lapel pin declaring the author a Foreign Service Officer. Instead we see a chess enthusiast and writer of fantasy and science fiction. Currently set in Nassau, Bahamas. What’s it like to raise talented musicians as part of your Foreign Service family? Ted has answers.

Notes From Post

Posts from one of our most recently sworn-in U.S. diplomats covering the beginning of A-100 training in Fall 2016 through Flag Day and Swearing-In last month. Come October—after Portuguese and Consular training—the posts here will shift focus from D.C. to Praia, Cape Verde.

Rob Joswiak: American, Veteran, Diplomat

Another from the same class, same timeline, and similar prognosis—soon to be proficient in Portuguese and posting from Porto Alegre, Brazil.

Sadie Abroad

Posting from Beirut for now; after the summer on to studying Bahasa Indonesia before taking up an assignment at the U.S. Consulate in Surabaya, Indonesia.

Tabbies in Tow

In their own words: A couple and their tabbies give up the comforts of everyday life to move into the unknown world of life in the Foreign Service, presently in Bucharest, Romania.

Previous posts in this series, by Foreign Service Officers and about the Foreign Service.

Foreign Service Readings

Continuing a short list of blogs and independent websites offering an insider’s view of U.S. diplomacy steeped in experience. Not  officialdom. I previously posted this Foreign Service blog list.

https://diplopundit.net

Opinionated and often edgy, DiploPundit has no official connection to the U.S. Department of State. It wades into leadership issues, Foreign Service realities, international current events, and other developments in the foreign affairs community. Updated daily the blog is the brainchild of Domani Spero, an obsessive compulsive observer, diplomatic watcher, and opinionator who monitors the goings on at ‘Foggy-Bottom’ and the ‘worldwide available’ universe—from Albania to Zimbabwe.  Continue reading Foreign Service Readings

D. W. Hitman

Warning: the reading police, disguised as the media, have infiltrated the State Department.

Based on a stroll through the Harry Truman building cafeteria, one journalist for The Atlantic pretends to understand our present condition: “As the staffer and I walked among the tables and chairs, people with badges chatted over coffee; one was reading his Kindle.”

Forgive me for not pausing to gasp at the news.

Federal workers everywhere hang badges, like nooses, around their necks. Continue reading D. W. Hitman

From Blogs to Books

answer-coming-soonI surprised a colleague yesterday with the news that his book would be published today. Ironically the title of the work is Answer Coming Soon.

The author, Dan Whitman, believes his books should be left behind on commercial airlines for the next passenger to come along and read. That humble disposition toward his work is exactly what makes his prose so engaging.

I know this because I’m in the middle of his previous release, Blaming No One: Blog Postings on Arts, Letters, Policy. Each of his essays—they are more than blog posts, frankly, such a nasty phrase—is perched on a distinct moment in time and accented by light swats at the folly of man. Except where a heavier blow will do. Continue reading From Blogs to Books

Between No Ferns

The American Foreign Service Association (AFSA) included this discussion of  Two Pumps for the Body Man in their new Digital Exclusives series. Unlike the great programming by Zach Galifianakis, the AFSA studio had no ferns and only one bamboo.

AFSA writes:

Foreign Service Officer Ben East brings to the table a satirical look at diplomatic service in the Middle East in his neo-noir, Two Pumps for the Body Man. The novel follows Jeff Mutton, a diplomatic security agent who must deal with an outlandish boss, hidden government agendas, deadly threats, and a unique personal affliction. East also takes time to explain how parts of the book were heavily informed by his own harrowing experience in Saudi Arabia as his consulate was attacked.

I’d Rather Be Writing (or maybe talking about it)

ferns

The American Foreign Service Association filmed a few short clips featuring my reflections on Two Pumps for the Body Man, the inspiration behind the novel, and my thoughts on the writing process. It isn’t exactly Zack Galifianakis Between Two Ferns (more like Some Guy and Bamboo) but I hope viewers will enjoy it when it becomes available.

afsaWhile the footage gets some much-needed editing, I thought I’d share the text of one short segment now. Here’s how I framed my thoughts on the novel writing process (because I’m a writer and not a TV personality, the film version is unlikely to measure up to the prepared remarks).


My novels get written in one of two ways. There’s the linear way, from start to finish, and then there’s the other way. The linear way itself takes two forms: either I’ve laid out some kind of synopsis or outline from the very beginning and tracked closely to it, or I’ve freewheeled it chapter by chapter, letting the story find its own way into the world. The linear model seems to be neater, quicker, and more coherent—but not necessarily the most satisfying.

The other way, the way Two Pumps was written, was like working on a jigsaw puzzle, with pieces scattered all over the floor and the house and moved from house to house and country to country over the ten years it took to complete and publish. The job was to join disparate episodes, to shave this piece and build that one, to seek and identify episodes from years ago and connect them seamlessly to material written last night. The process was slow, cumbersome, and the trajectory of the narrative—even the primary point of view—didn’t emerge until years later.

Though tedious, and sometimes self-defeating—two steps forward, three steps back—the process was rewarding.

My only other thought on the novel writing process is that it’s as much about sitting down with pen and paper or keyboard and monitor as it is about state of mind. For me the so-called process is really a reaction—both inherent and trained through discipline—to experience. Do the people, places, events, details, etc., reach you only in the moment and as part of the world in which they actually occur? Or do they come at you with a richer, displaced value, something best discovered later on, in the attic?

The state of mind more fit for the novelist is the latter.

Beyond all that, the writing process is simply a numbers game: how many minutes and hours can you make yourself do it? But as my oldest fan tells me, that’s a question of discipline. Not process.

December 06, 2004

Remembering those we lost. Remembering those who survived. Remembering this awful day and its  protracted aftermath.

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It’s the aftermath that sticks most. The long period that stretched through weeks when our broken mission pulled itself together again. We pulled ourselves up from piles of ash and dust; from the pulverized concrete and glass shattered by bullets fired into the chancery; from the smoldering heap of a Marine house burned to the ground.

I remember the rifles mounted on alien tripods behind sandbags and concertina wire that popped up around the compound with the arrival of a Marine detachment. I remember the flickering lights along darkened corridors that cast jittery shadows for weeks as we made our way through routine in an effort to restore ourselves to normal.

I came upon this essay about the day itself in the third edition of Inside a U.S. Embassy (2011).  I don’t need to read to remember, or to know that every day our diplomats put their lives on the line. Some wear a bigger target on their backs than others; some for longer periods. But we all serve in harm’s way, at some point.

jedd-att

Two more pieces worth reading. Two Pumps for the Body Man is a satire about diplomatic life on the front line of the war on terror.

two-pumps-banner

Shattered Glass–The Story of a Marine Embassy Guard is non-fiction by the Marine standing Post as the attackers breached our gate.

GM Shattered Glass

For those of you who continue to walk this overlooked beat: we remember.

Foreign Service Blogs

The Books & News blog finds itself in good company, listed among many others at the American Foreign Service Association’s round up of Foreign Service Blogs. They got me looking around at the work being posted by other diplomats and colleagues overseas. Here’s a summary of the first few.

fsj-nov-16

  1. Address: TBD Recounts the early steps in the foreign service adventure.
  2. Adventures Around the World Currently posting from Vilnius, Lithuania, these FS tales go back to 2007.
  3. Adventures in Good Countries Humorous perspectives on “Getting along in the Foreign Service” going back to 2005.
  4. Dear Diary: Travels in the Foreign Service Lots of great photography as the writer travels around her current post in Europe. As the title suggests, regular reflections on the FS life.
  5. Deeblog Here’s one more along the lines of my own Books & News, though more intelligent. “Book Reviews, Film Reviews, Translations, Essays.”
  6. Journey Currently posting from Rome, this content includes lots of photos and fine art, as well as a helpful menu linking to various topical aspects of the Foreign Service, from the A-100 induction course to previous overseas postings.
  7. Kitty Non Grata Like letters to home from an ex-pat who wanted to be an FSO since sixth grade. Currently posting from Brazil and offering a chance to revisit this summer’s Olympic Games.
  8. Life After Jerusalem Also, “The musings of a two-spirit American Indian” FSO. The menu points to many more FS blogs, bringing me to the realization that I’ve only begun to scratch the surface here and must stop.

For now.

Two Pumps for the Librarian

Six months back, guy walks into the library. Hands over his Foreign Service novel.

“Here ya go.”
“What’s this?”
“It’s a book. Go ahead. Put it on the shelf.”
“Not so fast, sonny. Two Pumps for the Body Man? Sounds dirty.”
“You don’t want this novel for your patrons?”
“We want four copies of that novel for our patrons. And it must pass a review.”
“A review?”Screen Shot 2016-06-09 at 9.13.53 AM
“You know. To keep out the funky shit.”
“Did you just cuss in the library?”
“Sir, I must ask you to keep your voice down. And please fill out this form to submit your book for review.”
“It’s a pretty funky book.”
“Funky how?”
“Terrorism. Foot fetishism. It mocks Dick Cheney. It’s a farce and a fiasco all in one.”
“Sounds great. Can’t wait to add it to the collection!”
“How soon will that be?”

It’s been a long wait. But I’m glad to say Two Pumps for the Body Man is finally part of the Fairfax County Library collection! Put it on your reading list today!

2 Pumps hi rezJeff Mutton walks the diplomatic beat protecting American officials in Saudi Arabia. An expert with guns and knives, grenades and rockets, he’s survived assaults and sieges, stabbings and chokeholds, car bombs, carjackings, criminal hits, and countless other enemy threats. But instinct tells Mutton the menace he now faces dwarfs all these killers combined. The fool!—his foot fetish has him in hot water again.

Part soft-boiled noir, part literary satire, Two Pumps for the Body Man is an unserious look at a serious situation, a grim reminder that no matter how high the barricade, how sharp the razor wire, there is no front line to the War on Terror. And the enemy is everywhere, even within.