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War Games

Updated: May 20, 2022

Much of the information I use when writing is what I absorbed through two mediums. One, dinner table conversations between my husband and other actors and writers (Jason Miller, Norman Wexler, and the inimitable Harry Koutoukas among them) who I listened to as they discussed form and technique. I knew nothing of either and I listened hard.

And two, movies that I listened to over and over on HBO when it started in the seventies. I wasn’t watching these movies, because I was crocheting “art to wear” which I sold through boutiques and small galleries in Soho, Sag Harbor and San Francisco, and designing sweaters and toys for magazines. So I learned how to write dialogue that was interesting, and by not watching I got a clear picture of what was missing from dialogue.

I mention this because some reviewers of War Games express a belief that I wrote this book or that we wrote it together. It’s fair to say I typed it. I did some editing, and much of that was done while I sat next to Akila as he did chemo. Akila credited me for making it more spare, which may be true, and may mean I’ve left an unintentional mark on it that makes me seem to be a larger contributor.

I can tell you that Akila thought I was going to write the book. He’d tried to get me to write some kind of story about flying kites for years but kites never grabbed me. Then at a writer’s event he talked to Linda Sue Park about it and was heard, I’m very happy to say. She wrote a wonderful story with kite-flying at its center, entirely her story, but picked out of the air the way we all do, a chance encounter and somebody says something to spark an idea. The kind of spark none of us can do without.

As for War Story, he sat for three days with a legal pad in front of him and we talked about various openings for the story. Nothing but chicken scribble on that pad. One page of ideas. So when he hit on one but couldn’t seem to get the dialogue started I took the pad and wrote what he told me to write, which was coming out like a scene described rather than lived through. I injected dialogue and tried to make it sound like I imagined a big brother would talk to a younger one, and Akila would keep correcting me. We stayed at this for about half an hour, probably less, before he said, “No, more like this.” He took the pad from me, scratched out a couple of lines, and started to write. And after that, it’s how we started each day. I would remind him of a story he or someone in his family had told me or even that I’d overheard them talking about. And if the page was blank I’d write down something of the way I pictured it. And Akila would either take it from there or say, that’s not what comes next, and he was off and running. I scurried off to another room to type what he’d written the day before.

So was it a collaboration? It was, but the story and the telling of it, entirely Akila’s.

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