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Existential Thrill: Mike Bond on 'House of Jaguar' and other stories (Q&A)

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Today, Hartford Books Examiner welcomes Mike Bond.

Called “The Master of the existential thriller” by the BBC, Mr. Bond is a bestselling novelist, war and human rights correspondent, environmental activist, award-winning poet, and international energy expert. His books are largely informed by his experiences living within dangerous, remote, and war-torn regions of the world. Bond has published hundreds of articles on human rights, the environment, international finance, the energy industry, and women's rights; he appears frequently on TV and radio to discuss these subjects.

Bond's most recent release, House of Jaguar (Mandevilla Press), is currently available in print and eBook editions. The Newton Chronicle noted, "House of Jaguar is based upon Bond's own experiences in Guatemala. With detailed descriptions of actual jungle battles and manhunts, vanishing rain forests and the ferocity of guerilla war, House of Jaguar also reveals the CIA's role in both death squads and drug running, twin scourges of Central America." Further, NetGalley Reviews praised, "This book is really a page turner. There are not enough words to describe how outstanding and entertaining this book is. Intriguing, exciting, captivating, sexy ... absolutely incredible!"

From the publisher:

Chopper pilot and Vietnam war hero Joe Murphy finds himself in the middle of the brutal Guatemalan revolution when he witnesses an attack on a Mayan village by the Guatemalan Army and its CIA “advisors”. Badly injured, he escapes on a nightmare trek through the jungle, hunted by the Army, the CIA, and death squads. Healed by guerrilla doctor Dona Villalobos, he falls in love with her and tries to save her from the revolution’s widening horror of insanity, tragedy, and death.

She convinces him to return to San Francisco to reveal this hidden war to the US media, but the CIA hunts him down there, killing everyone he turns to. He returns to Guatemala to find Dona and to face the war in the jungle and the death squads.

Based on the author’s own experiences as the only foreign war correspondent left alive in Guatemala when over 150 journalists had been killed by death squads, House of Jaguar is “a riveting thriller of murder, politics, and lies” (London Broadcasting).

Now, Mike Bond offers readers a unique insight into his creative process …

1) What inspires the ideas for your novels – and how do your experiences as both a war and human rights correspondent continue to influence your work?

Usually what inspires the ideas for my novels is some major issue that needs to be resolved, often a tragic one – war, genocide, destruction of animal species and wild places. On a deeper level also my ideas are inspired by the profound events of life: love, sex, survival, danger, ecstasy and the search for meaning underlie my novels as much as the specific events related in them.

My experience as a war and human rights correspondent taught me the horrors and sorrows of war, its hideous unnecessity, how it takes people and wrenches them apart in every way. I am driven by the hope that if I can put the reader in it deeply enough they will hate it as I do, and if we humans can work together perhaps we can reduce war.

This experience also taught me that a lot about war and thus who we humans really are, as opposed to what we imagine we are. I am always interested in the separation between what we do and what we say, how we comfort ourselves with lies.

Most of all it taught me to speak for the voiceless – the 250,000 Guatemalans killed by US-backed military dictatorships, the elephants, the whales, the children of the Sudan or any other war-torn place. In the epigraph to House of Jaguar I quote the El Salvadoran poet Roque Dalton (later killed by the CIA), that our veins don’t end in us but in the one blood of all who fight for life.

All I can do for the voiceless murdered Guatemalans, I add, is speak the truth.

2) Your books fictionalize very real issues. How do you endeavor to balance education and entertainment – and what is your ideal hope as an author when presenting such works to the public?

I endeavor to make my books as real as possible, as real to the situation in which they are set, to the events and to the location. One can learn a lot about East African wildlife, habitats and geography in The Last Savanna, as well as the backgrounds of different tribes, myths, and languages. But it’s not education, it’s part of the story, part of what the reader would be experiencing if she or he were there.

Education should be entertainment and vice versa. For that, veracity is essential. Similarly with House of Jaguar, every place in that book is accurate and I’ve been there. The Mayan myths, the language, the torture chambers – all is real. The events that take place, the background, really happened. There’s no need for suspension of disbelief.

What I find is that this intensity, this reality, this being there, results in a very deep response from most readers. A few are antagonized or critical, or don’t feel literature should be about real issues, but the great majority seem to connect deeply with my books, and many readers write that my books have literally changed them.

3) Tell us: how does setting enhance story – and what do you intend for your novels’ backdrops reveal about the natural world?

Setting enhances story, as I’ve touched on above, because it is part of the story. In all my books, the setting plays a major role: The dangers of the sea in Saving Paradise, of the rain forest and guerrilla warfare in House of Jaguar, the deadliness of the desert in The Last Savanna, of urban civil war in Holy War. The setting becomes a major character, defines the lives of the human characters.

What my novels’ backdrops reveal about the natural world is that it’s disappearing fast, that this is an unnecessary and evil tragedy, and we must stop or we will lose not only our external paradise but the deep emotional and psychic paradise inside each one of us.

4) In addition to fiction, you are well-versed in journalism and poetry. How do these disciplines influence one another – and what do you believe are the keys to being a well-rounded writer?

One could argue that journalism and poetry are the two sides to novel writing – the former focuses on accuracy, the latter is the deep spring of creativity inside each one of us, the reason why Einstein said imagination is more important than knowledge. Because the profoundest truths, the ones most essential to our lives, come from intuition, from the spirit, from the poetic side of us, to lack this aspect is to make a book turgid, superficial and dull.

A well-rounded writer is comfortable with both disciplines. But most important, a well-rounded writer is one who loves writing, can’t stop, and understands that it’s a pathway not only to personal comprehension but also to sharing experience and thus to societal awareness and growth.

Which I why I call my novels Literature of Liberation, or Literature of Revolution. It’s possible to live very deeply and well, and every person on this earth should have that chance. For that we have to change the world.

5) A common thread throughout your books seems to be the dualities of existence. What makes this a fascinating conceit – and how do you find that your stories lend themselves to such exploration?

I am constantly astounded by the mysteries of life. We wander about as if we understood why we’re here, what we and the universe, dimensions and time are – when in reality all we have is myths and suppositions. Every one of my books is an exploration of these mysteries, an attempt to live so deeply to the bone that the realities of existence become plain to us.

Because my stories live in periods of danger, intense love, fear, combat and bliss there is constant duality: life and death, love and hate, terror and ecstasy, sex – the creation of life, and killing. In a sense my books are concentrations of life – we all go through these experiences, and the more concentrated they are the more we learn from them.

As I often say, stories come from the time when we sat around the fire in front of our cave and shared the information of the day – where the leopard hunts us, where we can find new food – data necessary for the tribe to survive. That’s equally true of literature today.

6) Leave us with a little teaser: what comes next?

Several of my books will come out in the next year. Tibetan Cross, an international best-seller that has never appeared in paperback in the US, is coming out in June. It’s been called “a great manhunt and a great love story”, and I’m pleased people will have the chance to read it.

By late summer my next Pono Hawkins novel will be out – he’s a Hawaii surfer, combat vet and a lover of women, life, animals and the natural world who keeps running into evils that need to be brought to justice. He’s more concerned about helping others than himself, and people seem to love that in him.

By fall I’ll have a non-fiction book out on wolves. I’ve studied them for years, and worked in wolf management, and the tragedy of what’s happened to them since President Obama started his war on wolves needs to be stopped before they’re all gone.

Also in the works are an in-depth novel on the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, and another on the 1960s, both to be out soon.

By the way, I’m reading lots of Irène Némirovsky these days. She’s an amazing French-Russian novelist who died in Auschwitz. There’s a few things out in English – Fire in the Blood is stunning. Her influence on me is enormous.

***

With thanks to Mike Bond for his generosity of time and thought and to Alissa Letkowski of Meryl L. Moss Media Relations, Inc. for facilitating this interview.

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