Tal Bauer

Writes

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Writing Recent History - Part One

 

Historical Fiction.

 

What do you think of when you picture that genre? Far-away times? Distant generations? Events where there couldn’t possibly be an emotional connection to you at all, other than the intrigue of a historian?

 

What does it mean to write recent history?

 

Contemporary fiction is defined, as a genre, as anything written from the 1950s forward. To me, that seems a bit broad. I would personally look at a novel from the 1950s, 1960s, or 1970s and feel it was historical, but maybe that’s because I wasn’t alive during those decades.

 

But what about writing recent history? Things that have happened that we ALL remember? Pivot points in history upon which our memories, our identities, and our entire worlds seem to turn?

 

In Whisper, Kris and David (and other associated characters), live and breathe within the world of our recent past. The novel opens on the morning of September 11, 2001, at 8:46 AM, when American Airlines Flight 11 slams into the North Tower of the World Trade Center in Manhattan, New York.

 

American Airlines Flight 11 strikes the North Tower of the WTC at 8:46AM on September 11, 2001  Source, Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=7949013

Kris is in the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center, CTC, when the attack happens. He’s a junior CIA officer, two years into his role, and has been relegated to the dregs of the agency—the Afghanistan desk.

 

For the first part of the novel, we follow Kris and the CIA as they leap into high gear and struggle to respond to the attacks. Who, why, how are questions that must be answered. Kris is instrumental in identifying al-Qaeda as the culprits behind the attack.

 

This launches the CIA into preparation for an all-out war against al-Qaeda, and their state sponsors, the Taliban, in Afghanistan. In 2001, the US military could not mobilize fast enough for an invasion of Afghanistan. The president called on the CIA to go in first, within two weeks of the attacks, while the ruins still smoldered in New York and in DC, and to begin laying the ground work for the invasion.

 

Kris struggles with certain truths through the workup to the invasion and once on the ground in Afghanistan. He’s facing a war on three fronts. His teammates don’t care for him, he’s fighting against his self-castigating conscience for choices he could have made differently, and there’s an actual war he’s suddenly in the middle of, thrust into the crux of history by a twist of fate: he, in being relegated to the sidelines on the Afghanistan desk, becomes a singularly indispensable person following September 11, 2001.

 

While writing the CIA’s invasion of Afghanistan, and their quest to secure the assistance of the Northern Alliance forces arrayed against the Taliban, I went to great pains to write the history as accurately and truthfully as could be portrayed while inserting fictional characters into actual events. The members of the CIA insertion team that I created are all entirely fictional. The real-life men who comprised Operation Jawbreaker are both CIA and American heroes.

 

I tried to tell Kris and David’s story at the same time I painted the picture of the Afghanistan invasion led by the CIA. Kris and David undertake missions that the actual CIA officers did: mapping the front lines, using laser-guided SOFLAMS to target-designate Taliban and al-Qaeda positions for bombing runs, and following Bin Laden to his mountain hideout in Tora Bora.

 

Below are photos from the actual mission:

CIA team inserting into the Panjshir Valley, Afghanistan. (Courtesy, CIA)
Renaming the tail number on the insertion helo – 91101. (Courtesy, CIA)
Afghanistan Blood Chit. Written in all the local languages, this blood chit was worn in a container around the officer’s necks. If they were captured, this chit promised whoever recovered the officer a significant reward for their return to US forces. Luckily, no officer was captured in the invasion of Afghanistan, though several CIA officers lost their lives. (Courtesy, CIA)
Saddle used by the Afghan Uzbeki fighters in the north. In the novel, they are led by General Hajimullah, and they fight to retake Taloquan and Mazer-e-Sharif. The saddles were far smaller and firmer than any Western saddle. After riding in them, most American were severely bruised and rubbed raw. (Courtesy, CIA Museum)
One of Kris & David’s missions is to map the front lines of the Northern Alliance and the Taliban/al-Qaeda forces. Kris and David spent days meticulously mapping with GPS units the precise locations of friendly versus opposition forces, to enable precision targeting during the military’s bombing campaign. (Courtesy, CIA)
More GPS mapping of the front lines in Afghanistan. Without accurate maps of the forces arrayed on the battlefield, the military could not begin their bombing runs. It was critical to only bomb enemy positions, and not inflict any casualties on friendly forces or innocent civilians. (Courtesy, CIA)
These are the SOFLAM laser target designators Kris and David use in Whisper, and were used by the CIA in Afghanistan in 2001. (Courtesy, CIA)
The front lines between the Taliban and the Northern Alliance went straight across Bagram Airfield. The Northern Alliance held the control tower, which had seen it’s share of fighting. This is how Bagram looked when the CIA took control of the airfield, following the fall of the Taliban in Kabul. (Courtesy. US Air Force Central Command)

 

Following the CIA’s invasion and the fall of the Taliban in Kabul, al-Qaeda retreated to their mountain camps around Tora Bora. The hunt for Bin Laden in the mountains lasted through November and into early December. Though the Special Forces team was within feet of Bin Laden at one point, they were unable to capture him. Bin Laden slipped through the Spin Ghar mountains and made his way into the remote tribal regions of Pakistan, where he hid for some time. In the novel, I recount the Battle of Tora Bora through David’s eyes.

 

Bin Laden in his Tora Bora complex. (Courtesy, CIA & Southern District of NY District Attorney’s Office)
Bombing Tora Bora. Actual images taken from the forward team – represented in Whisper as Forward Team Bravo – as they bombed Tora Bora and Bin Laden’s hideout. (Courtesy, CIA)
Al-Qaeda training manual, recovered in the ruins of Bin Laden’s complex. (Courtesy, CIA Museum)

 

After Tora Bora, the novel follows Kris and David onto the CIA’s next priority: capturing and interrogating al-Qaeda’s highest-level commanders. Kris is intimately involved in the capture of the CIA’s first high-value target…

 

Questions:

What do you think when you read “historical fiction”?

How soon is too soon, when writing about recent history?

Is there a different feel to reading recent history than there is to history from a more distant time?

 


 

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Playing the Presidential Card - Jack and Ethan, post-Enemy Within

 

Welcome to Bauer’s Bytes!

This week, we take a look at Ethan and Jack in their married, post-presidential life. How are they settling in? How do they begin to make a normal life together, after everything. Enjoy!


 

Sure, they had a new home—their first home together—but that didn’t mean they had everything.

 

The kitchen was full of Ethan’s belongings, and the furniture was mostly a mixture of Jack’s classic style and Ethan’s ultra-modern taste. It made for an odd mix, in places. Two couches faced each other in the living room, one sleek black leather and smooth lines, and the other a warm, rumpled brown leather lounger.

 

Sometimes, they flopped onto their preferred couches and stared at each other over the divide. Who would break first and cross to the other side?

 

Ethan always did.

 

They had their king bed, their first purchase as husband and husband, but they still needed all the odds and ends that filled a house. Bathroom crap, towels and toothbrush holders and baskets. Sheets and blankets for their new bed, pillows, candles—according to Ethan—and hangars. Pictures for the walls—Jack—and maybe a set of dishware that was theirs.

 

So, off they went, shopping. First stop, Bed Bath and Beyond.

 

Jack, former president of the United States, still had a small Secret Service detail assigned to him for the rest of his life. Usually, they were older agents, agents who wanted to wind down the end of their careers with a president they’d liked. Not with Jack, though. Today, it was Agent Caldwell who was at the curb, waiting in his SUV. They said hello and chatted during the drive. Caldwell had two kids in elementary school, and he showed off pictures of their talent show and told a funny story about his kids running ragged on his wife. He’d come home to find them running wild, her in full retreat in their bedroom, like a Lord of the Flies documentary come to life. “They’re a handful right now,” he said, chuckling.

 

Ethan and Jack shared a long look.

 

The store was mostly empty mid-morning, just after opening. Caldwell shadowed their movements, hanging out a polite distance behind them, but close enough to keep an intimidating bubble of ‘keep the fuck away’ around them both.

 

Jack pushed the cart and waited as Ethan detoured into the kitchenwares. He waited… and waited… and waited. Ethan poked at the food processor, lifted and closed the panini press a half dozen times, checked out three blenders, and looked back and forth between two stand mixers.

 

Jack thought roots were going to grow out of his feet. He gave Caldwell a long, suffering sigh.

 

Finally, though, Ethan trotted back, empty handed.

 

“After all that, you didn’t get anything?”

 

“I just wanted to look.”

 

Jack stared at him.

 

They made it to curtains next. Their walls were painted butter yellow, and Jack reached for ivory linen. Ethan frowned, and grabbed an armful of sheer white panels. “These will look good.”

 

Pillows, and they both grabbed armfuls. Jack bopped Ethan on the head, and Ethan swatted him on the butt.

 

Jack picked out a dish set while Ethan loaded up on candles. Cotton and pine, sunshine and vanilla, lavender and leather. If they lit them all at once, it would be an olfactory crime. Ethan had an eclectic taste in scents. No doubt each candle was for a different room, a scent picked out for each part of their house that only he knew.

 

Bathroom crap, and Ethan was mesmerized by the electronic gadgets, the whiz bang shavers and electric mirrors, the shower radio and the digital scale. Jack picked out a neutral bathroom set and an armful of towels, and then another armful, and Ethan was still looking at two electric razors, going back and forth.

 

Of course, he got nothing.

 

Jack shook his head, keeping his smile to himself.

 

And then, they came to the sheets. They already had a blue and white comforter, and another taupe and eggshell one. Jack reached for a set of white sheets.

 

“Jack… really?”

 

Jack froze. His eyes flicked to Ethan’s, outstretched hand hovering over a pack of white king-sized sheets. “Not… white?”

 

“The thread count. It’s too low.”

 

Jack blinked. “Four hundred is too low?”

 

A slow smile spread over Ethan’s face. “What kind of Neanderthal are you?”

 

Jack pulled back his shoulders. One hand rose, landing on his hip. “A presidential Neanderthal.”

 

“Okay, you cannot play the presidential card our entire marriage.”

 

“Play the presidential card?!”

 

“Yes! You cannot pull that out, throw out that you were the president.”

 

Jack threw his hands in the air, his jaw hanging open. He looked for Caldwell. Caldwell had beat a retreat and was standing down the aisle, far out of helpful range for this. “Well… I was.”

 

“That doesn’t mean you have great taste in sheets. God, Jack. Four hundred count? Really?”

 

“Okay. You pick the sheets, big boy.” Jack folded his arms, pursed his lips. Nodded, and watched Ethan slowly walk up the aisle. “Should I give you a time limit? Your track record today for picking anything has been pretty terrible.”

 

Ethan ignored him. He picked up a set. Put it down. Picked up a different set. Set it down.

 

“Oh my God.” Jack sighed, very loudly. He rolled his head to one side.

 

Ethan picked up another set. Turned it over.

 

Progress.

 

Ethan set it down.

 

Jack started humming the Jeopardy theme.

 

Ethan would not be rushed.

 

Eventually, well after Jack dragged a stool for sale from the barwares section over and sat down on it, crossed his legs, propped up his chin, and settled in for a long wait, Ethan came back with three sets of sheets. A twelve hundred count cream, a bamboo ivory, and a satin snow white.

 

“Hmmm.” Jack led them to the register, and paid.

 

* * *

 

Hours later, Jack flopped back on their bed, panting, trying to catch his breath. He starfished out, his hands and legs limp, his body boneless. Everything tingled, their lovemaking always shredding him apart in the very best way.

 

Ethan hit the mattress next to him, lying on his side. He grinned.

 

Jack writhed, wriggling on the sheets. Ethan’s grin grew.

 

“Okay. Yeah. These are nice sheets.”

 

“Yes, Mr. President.” Ethan dropped a kiss on his lips and snuggled close.

 

“That was our first argument that wasn’t about national security or my safety.”

 

“Well. It was still about you. Kind of.”

 

“Because you accused me of playing some kind of presidential card!”

 

“No.” Ethan kissed him again. “Because I want to make sure you only have the best of everything.”

 

And just like that, his heart melted again. “Oh, jeez, Ethan.” He pressed his face into Ethan’s neck, kissed his throat. “I do have the best. I have you.”

 

Ethan’s arms wound around him, held him close. He wiggled down, found Jack’s face. Kissed him, and kissed him some more, until Ethan rolled Jack to his back and started nibbling and licking down his chest, his belly, again. “Hands flat on the sheet, love,” Ethan breathed, dropping a kiss below his belly button. “Don’t take them off.”


Timestamp: Jack and Ethan, post-Enemy Within.

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