Thursday, November 8, 2012

The Story Behind the Story

The background to my second Post Cold War political thriller, The Poksu Conspiracy, goes back sixty years. That was when my Knoxville Air National Guard unit was activated. A few months later I found myself , a young lieutenant, assigned to Fifth Air Force Headquarters in Seoul. When I returned from the war zone in 1953, I married the girl who would become mother of my four children. Back home, I also read several books on Korea and learned how the country had arrived at the situation it faced when the North invaded the South in 1950.

Thirty years later, my younger son, as an Army lieutenant, was stationed at the DMZ (Demilitarized Zone) along the North Korean border. He married a Korean girl before returning to the States. By the mid-eighties he was back in the Far East, stationed on Okinawa with Army Special Forces. His team was targeted on Thailand, where they helped train Thai special forces. His second son was born on Okinawa. When his tour ended in 1987, he had a month's leave coming. He invited his mother and me to join him and his wife on a month-long tour of the region. That trip contributed many ideas I've used in my Post Cold War political thrillers.

We started that rambling tour of 1987 in Seoul, which bore no resemblance to the city I remembered  from the spring of 1952. Instead of buildings left in shambles by artillery barrages and streets largely devoid of traffic other than military, I found modern high-rise structures everywhere and wide boulevards clogged with vehicles. Though she had been married for several years and now had two small boys, my daughter-in-law wanted a proper wedding ceremony as a memento to replace the civil vows they took back during my son's DMZ tour. We attended the traditional Korean ceremony at a wedding house in Inchon, her hometown and Seoul's seaport neighbor. A similar event takes place in the book.

When I began my fiction-writing career a couple of years later with my first political thriller, Beware the Jabberwock, I used ideas for Hong Kong scenes based on the final leg of that 1987 tour. Recalling our experience in Seoul, plus memories from the Korean War days, I started work on Book 2 with an idea about what could happen in those turbulent days of the early nineties.

I decided to use a Korean homicide detective as a major character in the story. I corresponded with a staff member at the American Embassy who sent me brochures detailing the organization and structure of the Seoul Metropolitan Police Bureau, plus lots of other useful information.

The Poksu Conspiracy is probably the most thoroughly researched book I've written. I read countless books and magazines on Korea, plus such subjects as nuclear weapons. Most of the historical information in the story is factual, including South Korea's early work on gaining a nuclear capability. I came across one intriguing fact, that Japan's efforts to create an atomic bomb during World War II took place in Korea. Another factual subject I included dealt with operations of a Northeast Anti-Japanese United Army division headed by Kim Il-sung in the late 1930s.

I visited many of the locations in Seoul mentioned in the book during my 1987 trip. Our travels through the Far East also took us to Thailand, including Bangkok and Chiangmai. The main character in the book, Burke Hill, travels to Chiangmai in search of one of the Poksu guerrillas from World War II. He stays in the Top North Guest House, an interesting motel we spent a few nights in. He also goes to a couple of unique sites we visited, including the Night Bazaar and a mountainside Buddhist temple called Wat Prathat Doi Suthep.

For a book sixty years in the making, I'm happy it's finally out there for people to read. It has been twenty-one years since I wrote the original manuscript, but the story is still basically the same. You'll find it in the Kinde Store at Poksu Conspiracy.