Do Your Homework!

Today’s guest blog post comes from Quotable contributor Matthew Andrew.

“Musa Qala,” my story that was selected for volume 10 of The Quotable, was conceived from an extra homework assignment given in a class dealing with the fundamentals of short fiction. The topic we were studying at the time was POV and the task was to write something short from the point of view of someone we despise or someone we would consider an enemy.

Being a married father of five, the last thing I needed on my list of things to do was yet another homework assignment. As many of you can relate, I spent the day cursing the moment I signed up for the already grueling course and attempted to game plan how I was going to fit this into a schedule that had no wiggle room. These were my lamentations as I headed out for my Friday trip to the Chik-Fil-A drive-thru for a highly anticipated Number One Value Meal.

The muse, however, wanted the story done NOW. Taking the form of a uncompromising school master, an idea was forced into my head by the time I was paying for my chicken sandwich and waffle fries. It was so simple, so obvious.

I’m also an active duty member of the U.S. Marines, so I think you can already guess who I would be writing about.

Musa Qala, a small section of Afghanistan’s Helmand Province (near Marjah and Kandahar) was plagued with enemy snipers, and our troops were hard pressed to avoid these insurgents. But, in the spirit of the assignment, I began to wonder—who are these guys and what is putting them behind a rifle with guys like me in their sights. This story is an examination of that point of view. And I hoped to convey a sense of impartiality and that war is indeed Hell, for everyone involved.

In real life, there are no White Knights or Men in Black. Every good man or woman has a dark part of their persona and every “bad guy” has something bright in there, somewhere, and I think this concept makes for intriguing short fiction. I didn’t just want to blur that line between the good and bad, I wanted to totally erase it. It wasn’t easy writing from the point of view of someone who has killed good people I’ve served alongside. I’ll let you be the judge as to whether or not there’s something you can take home from this piece.

So, by the time I headed home with my glorious dinner in its white paper bag, I had most of “Musa Qala” already composed in my head. For those of you writers who have been there, it’s a very exciting feeling. Some of my favorite stories have been those spontaneous bombs that just exploded onto paper.

My point in all this—do your homework. You never know how exciting and encouraging the end result may be.